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21st February 2014, 2:47pm
"To Flirt with Death" – Sam’s mercurial poem wins chemistry competition
Mercury The winner of a national competition designed to get young people thinking about chemistry has been announced.

The University of Lincoln launched the My Favourite Element competition, inviting people aged 14 to 19 years old to describe their favourite chemical element in 200 words or less.

The winner was Sam Buckton from Rudolf Steiner School in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, who claimed the top prize of an Apple iPad.

Sam's submission, which described the qualities of the element Mercury, was presented as a poem entitled To Flirt with Death and his Winged Heels. It outlined how 'quicksilver' has fascinated mankind since the time of the Ancient Egyptians with its "beguiling, shifting, gleaming" nature.

Sam said: "I am delighted that my combination of creative writing and scientific content was appreciated! The poem format I used lent itself well to thinking like an obsessive 18th-century alchemist and I had fun writing in an appropriately flowery style. I am sure that the iPad will come in very useful."

Charlie Hewis from Caistor Grammar School in Lincolnshire was highly commended for an essay which drew a sparkling analogy between the element Fluorine and a "spoilt only child".

Lord Dick Taverne, founder of Sense About Science, helped to select the winning entry with fellow judging panellists, the University's Professor Nicholas Blagden, Chair in Pharmaceutics, Dr Pallavi Sharma, Lecturer in Organic Chemistry, and Dr Libby John, Head of the Lincoln School of Life Sciences.

Lord Taverne said: "The best science writing is often entertaining and amusing as well as informative and accurate. I was immensely impressed with the quality of entries to the University of Lincoln's My Favourite Element competition. We saw creativity combined with a deep understanding of science. It gave me great confidence that the future of science communication is bright."

There were more than 70 entries to the competition. Entries were judged for clarity of argument, demonstration of knowledge and creative flair.

Later this year the University of Lincoln will welcome the first students into its new School of Chemistry at its spectacular Joseph Banks Laboratories. The University has declared 2014 its Year of Science in celebration of the dramatic expansion of its courses and facilities which builds on Lincolnshire's proud scientific legacy.

For more on the University of Lincoln's Year of Science, visit:

My favourite element will have to be alluring, sheeny, deathly mercury. The scheming alchemist within my soul would dearly love to get his eager hands on quicksilver. But I am not a fool as were physicians of the pharaohs’ lands, or naive as the oriental age who claims the Philosopher's Stone is his; no, I am of a very different age. Has seven isotopes. Atomic mass 200.59. Eighty protons to its name. Silver-white liquid metal. Toxic, volatile. But see the photons dance upon its surface! I would settle for none other than this. To sift it through my fingers, globules falling like raindrops... Hydrargyrum. Water-silver. The two in one. Accumulates until it stops the heart. Dense rhombohedral lattice form. Such properties that let barometers forecast impending weather, sun or storm, that make our batteries, thermometers, catalysts, pesticides - to name a few. I've teased some mercury from cinnabar now ready, pure, for use. Let fun ensue! I could amalgamate with gold. It's clear my favourite element will have to be beguiling, shifting, gleaming mercury.

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