Rather than modelling a swimsuit and expressing a desire to see world peace in her own lifetime, Miss Virginia beauty pageant contestant Camille Schrier decided to try something different.

A biochemist studying for a doctorate in pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University, the 24-year-old took to the stage in a white lab coat and safety goggles to demonstrate the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide during the talent section of the competition.

Her simple experiment, the sort beloved of school science teachers, ended with the addition of a catalyst, potassium iodide, to three glass beakers containing concentrated hydrogen peroxide, food colouring and washing up liquid, the ensuing reaction sending plumes of bright orange, blue and green foam rocketing upwards into the air.

The crowd went wild when Schrier’s presentation came to its spectacular close - known as an “Elephant’s Toothpaste” reaction - and the panel of five judges had little hesitation in crowning her Miss Virginia.

Visibly emotional as she was handed her tiara, sash and congratulatory bouquet, Schrier received $22,000 (£17,578) in prize money for the feat.

Perhaps more importantly, she had played a crucial part in helping to modernise an American institution rightly attacked for objectifying women and prioritising unrealistic ideals of beauty over skill and expertise.

Schrier told CTV after the event on 22 June:

I think that now, the Miss America Organization has changed to be a lot more progressive. 

I think that there’s a perception of what women that compete in organisations like this, what we look like and what we sound like, so I want to be that ground-breaker, who goes out and surprises everyone, and says, I’m a woman of science, an academic-focused person, but I still see myself in an organisation like this. 

Posting on Instagram later, she wrote:

Have you ever had your entire life change in one instant? Last night, mine did, as I was crowned Miss Virginia 2019. I can’t even say that I’ve dreamt of this moment...because I never thought this was possible even in my wildest dreams. 

I am so excited to spend the next year traveling our commonwealth advocating for STEM education & drug safety and abuse prevention. Oh, and I’m going to MISS AMERICA! I’m overwhelmed with so many messages of support, and truly could not be more grateful.

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