Maya Sinclair spent most of grade 11 happily obsessed with titrations. In fact, within days of starting her first chemistry class, the Toronto high school student knew she wanted to be a chemist.

“It was a course that really clicked for me,” she says. “I was never bored. I felt passionate and I always wanted to see if I could solve the puzzles.”

Sinclair, who is heading to McGill University this fall to study chemistry, is one of three winners of this year’s Lionel High School Scholarship.

The Lionel Scholarships – administered by the CIC Chemical Education Fund – target high school students with a strong interest in chemistry, biochemistry or chemical engineering who would not be able to attend without significant financial assistance. It provides $4,000 per year for up to four years towards their studies.

Sinclair spent last summer working as an intern at the Focused Ultrasound group’s research lab at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute and credits her supervisor and the university students she shadowed for solidifying her desire to be a scientist. While her internship wasn’t focused on chemistry, it was nonetheless a pivotal experience.

“I had the good fortune of working with a wonderful supervisor who taught me how to operate an ultrasound machine, how to keep a neat lab notebook, and when it was permissible to use the word ‘significant,’” says Sinclair. “Most importantly, she taught me that when you love a subject, learning about it is rewarding and can make you happy.”

This summer, Sinclair has plans to work or volunteer in a pharmacy to see if the pharmaceutical industry suits her. “As of right now I think I will continue and study for a master’s,” she says. “I don’t know what specialization of chemistry I will pursue – though I am currently partial to organic – but I am certain that a ‘happy accident’ will bring me to where I need to be.”

Sinclair’s co-winners are Arvin Del Rosario and Vladimir Samoilov, both high school students in Winnipeg and both heading to the University of Manitoba.

Del Rosario, who will major in biochemistry and microbiology, has his sights set on becoming a researcher with Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory. He credits his grade 7 science teacher in the Philippines – where he and his family lived before moving to Canada in 2018 – for awakening in him a love for biochemistry. His teacher was strict about ensuring his students came to class prepared and encouraged them to “dream big,” says Del Rosario, whose dream is to tackle antibiotic-resistant disease and those stemming from misfolded proteins.

“Chemistry is a big part of finding solutions for these problems,” he says. “But aside from being a researcher, I also want to be a professor or teacher. I want to show them science is cool. It’s not just for nerds – it’s for everybody.”

Samoilov also hopes work as a researcher, in his case to investigate cancer-fighting proteins that help patients live longer, fuller lives, because, as he says, “life is beautiful.”

Originally from Ukraine, he and his family emigrated from Russia to Canada in 2021, and despite being 18 years old at the time, he had to go back to high school to improve his English and brush up on his skills in calculus and chemistry.

Samoilov has always liked the sciences, “When I was a child, my favourite Ninja Turtle was Donatello because he was always making stuff.”

But it was when he worked on a high school presentation on protein production and genetics that he became hooked on biochemistry. “I also like computer science and I could see it like a computer code, that controls everything,” he says.