Issue Date: December 21, 2009
Periodic Table At Play
The recession couldn't dampen the spirits of thousands of volunteers around the country who turned out in force on Oct. 18–24 to celebrate National Chemistry Week (NCW), the American Chemical Society's largest annual chemistry outreach event. "We're looking for good news during these more difficult times," says ACS President Thomas H. Lane. "Some of the NCW events provided a venue where truly good news could be shared."
This year's NCW theme, "Chemistry—It's Elemental!" celebrated the 140th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev's periodic table of the elements. "It's important to highlight the elements in all the things we use in our daily lives," such as carbon in the form of graphite in pencils, fluorine in fluoride toothpaste, and sodium in table salt, says Ingrid Montes, chair of the ACS Committee on Community Activities (CCA).
The weeklong celebration of chemistry drew more than 10,000 volunteers from ACS's 189 local sections, who partnered with businesses, schools, and individuals throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to lead chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities at public venues such as museums, shopping malls, and libraries.
"It's our obligation as chemists and members of this society to go out into the communities in which we live and work and help them understand who we are, what we do, and the benefit we bring to society," Lane says. "NCW puts some of our nearly 160,000 members in contact with hundreds of thousands of children and members of the community. It's a wonderfully powerful event."
NCW began in 1987 as National Chemistry Day and became National Chemistry Week in 1993. The event is organized by CCA with support from the ACS Office of Community Activities (OCA).
Merck & Co. supported NCW in a big way this year by donating 12,000 copies of the Merck Index. Local sections helped distribute the volumes to high schools around the country. "High school teachers have a huge impact on student attitudes toward science, and if we can get high school teachers involved with our society, then that will help bring in new students, too," says Tracy Halmi, NCW chair for CCA.
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in helping to publicize NCW. This year, event coordinators used social networking sites such as the ACS Network, Facebook, and Twitter to share activity ideas and to alert the public to events in their area.
ACS offices and divisions joined in to help NCW reach even more people. The ACS Office of Public Affairs, for example, produced four special episodes of their "ByteSize Science" podcast, which were available in both English and Spanish. OPA also encouraged ACS's Chemistry Ambassadors to reach out to their local communities during NCW. "Plan a school visit and share with children the wonder of science. Speak to a local civic club about a chemical element with local importance. Put chemistry in the headlines of your local newspaper," suggested OPA Communications Assistant Keith Lindblom in a May 1 post on the ACS Network.
The ACS Publications Division supported NCW by offering free access during the week to the ACS Symposium Series, an online collection of more than 1,200 ACS books. ChemMatters, the ACS magazine for high schools students, devoted its October issue to NCW, including a cover story on the origins of the chemical elements. And Celebrating Chemistry, the ACS newspaper for elementary school students, illustrated various ways the elements are used in everyday lives.
The celebration also received support from the House of Representatives. On Oct. 20, the House passed a resolution, H.R. 793, to honor the goals and ideals of NCW. "Communicating the importance of chemistry and the natural sciences to our students is essential to ensure that our schools continue to cultivate the finest scientists, engineers, and technicians from every background and neighborhood to create the innovations of tomorrow that will help keep our nation strong," wrote Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), in a letter to his House colleagues urging them to cosponsor the resolution. "Educating our children about the joys of chemistry and the natural sciences invests in both the future of our students and our country's well-being." Reyes introduced the resolution on Oct. 1, and the bill garnered 50 cosponsors. In addition, the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, urged its member companies to participate in NCW activities.
The elements theme even worked its way into the unifying community service activity. Local sections urged NCW participants to donate cans of food to local food banks, and cans are usually made of aluminum, steel, or tin.
Competitions got students' creative juices flowing. Students in grades K–12 participated in a poster contest, and undergraduate student chapters competed in the Chemvention contest to develop a hands-on activity for elementary school children in grades 4–6 based on the 2010 NCW theme, "Behind the Scenes with Chemistry."
The grand prize went to the student chapter at Idaho State University, Pocatella, which will receive $750 toward travel to an ACS national meeting. In addition, two chapters—University of Michigan, Dearborn, and Spring Arbor University, in Michigan—will receive $300 for travel to an ACS national meeting. Each chapter will present its poster at Sci-Mix during the 2010 spring ACS national meeting in San Francisco.
Montes stresses that NCW owes its enormous success to the efforts of thousands of volunteers who work behind the scenes to communicate the positive messages about chemistry. "It's very important to thank all the volunteers and to recognize that this program is very successful because of them," she says.
Many longtime volunteers rose to the challenge this year to become first-time NCW coordinators. They include Patsy Boehler of the St. Joseph Valley Section, Geneive Henry of the Susquehanna Valley Section, Amy DeBaillie and Kevin Weber of the Indiana Section, Sujata Bhatia of the Delaware Section, and Linda Youmans-McDonald of the Savannah River Section. "We need to foster a new cadre of leaders," says Montes. "They are refreshing for the society."
Following are highlights of NCW celebrations:
The Delaware Section held its annual Kids Science Adventure, at Independence School, in Newark. More than 400 children participated in the Nov. 7 event, which featured activities such as making slime and launching Alka-Seltzer rockets.
In Boston, the Northeastern Section engaged visitors to the Museum of Science and the Boston Children's Museum in demonstrations and hands-on activities related to the elements. Roughly 600 high school students attended lectures on X-ray crystallography at the Museum of Science, and volunteers wore NCW T-shirts designed by a local high school student.
As part of the Northern New York Section's activities at Saint Mary's School, in Canton, students designed their own periodic tables using coins, paper clips, and other common items. Students also listened to songs about the elements. At Clarkson University, in Potsdam, student members displayed a large periodic table on the ice during a hockey game. They highlighted the element copper, whose symbol Cu also stands for Clarkson University, and used it as a target during their Chuck-A-Puck contest.
Downtown Syracuse buzzed with activity as the Syracuse Section entertained about 600 visitors at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology. Children visiting the metals studio made colorful jewelry using niobium and titanium. In Clinton, chemistry students from Hamilton College distributed more than 200 servings of ice cream made using liquid nitrogen.
New Jersey's local sections celebrated NCW with the help of many colleges and universities. As part of the Trenton Section's activities, faculty and students from Mercer County Community College, Rider University, and the College of New Jersey performed demonstrations for more than 700 students. The Ocean County Section continued with the elements theme. Through hands-on activities, students and faculty from Ocean County College, in Toms River, and Georgian Court University, in Lakewood, stressed the importance of elements such as calcium and sodium in maintaining good health. Volunteers from the Princeton Section, Princeton University, and Princeton High School hosted NCW Activities Night for more than 200 visitors to the university's Frick Laboratory on Oct. 23. Demonstrations included splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and comparing the reactivities of different metals.
In Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Section reached out to students in underserved communities by offering free admission to their NCW activities at the Carnegie Science Center. The program gave 1,500 students from 19 schools, who may not have otherwise had the resources, the opportunity to participate in NCW activities. The section also collected and donated 1,100 lb of food to a local food bank. In Erie, volunteers from the Erie Section performed Halloween-themed chemistry demonstrations for more than 40 preschool children during an event at Blasco Library. Volunteers also performed hands-on activities for visitors to Millcreek Mall and the expERIEnce Children's Museum.
In Washington, D.C., nearly 450 students participated in 12 hands-on science activities assisted by volunteers from ACS, the Chemical Society of Washington, members of the local chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers, and other organizations. At Ballou Senior High School, ACS President Lane kicked off the event with a motivational speech about finding a good mentor. In nearby College Park, Md., students from the University of Maryland wore placards bearing different elements and arranged themselves into a giant periodic table.
In North Carolina, more than 50 volunteers from the Central North Carolina Section, local high schools and colleges, and chemical companies came together to host the section's second annual Chemistry Day event at the Girl Scout Learning Center, in Colfax. Nearly 150 students in grades K–12 participated in activities highlighting the chemical elements.
On Oct. 13, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, chemistry professor Al Hazari presented his annual "Magic of Chemistry Show" as part of the East Tennessee Section's NCW activities. On Oct. 25, sixth- and seventh-grade girls and their teachers participated in a "Sharing Adventures in Engineering & Science" workshop at the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge.
The Nashville Section and Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, celebrated NCW with a homecoming float decorated with the periodic table of the elements. Students passed out pocket periodic tables to the homecoming attendees. Other NCW activities took place at the Adventure Science Center, in Nashville.
The Northeast Tennessee Section partnered with Eastman Chemical to host the "Celebration of Chemistry for Fourth Graders" event at the company's Toy F. Reid Employee Center, in Kingsport, on Oct. 20–21. The event reached 1,400 fourth graders.
In Kentucky, the Lexington Section celebrated with the Georgetown College Chemistry Club hosting an "It's Elemental" chemistry event at Scott County Public Library for children in preschool through middle school.
The Georgia Section sent out NCW care packages containing educational materials and gifts to more than 1,400 students. Highlights of the week included a Science Café on nanotechnology, chemistry demonstrations for high school students by students and professors from Georgia Institute of Technology, and hands-on chemistry activities at Fernbank Science Center, in Atlanta. The Georgia Tech radio station WREK broadcast a special NCW episode of its science program, "Inside the Black Box."
Despite a rainy week, the Middle Georgia Section reached more than 3,000 people with activities hosted by students at Wesleyan College, in Macon; Brewton-Parker College, in Mount Vernon; and Georgia College & State University, in Milledgeville. The festivities concluded with NCW Family Fun Night at Georgia College, where 125 families enjoyed chemistry magic shows and a mad-scientist maze.
The Baton Rouge Section hosted its annual Super Science Saturday at Louisiana State University's field house. The free event drew more than 900 children, who participated in hands-on activities exploring the properties of the chemical elements. For example, one activity asked participants to compare the differences between hydrogen- and helium-filled balloons. In a separate event, a consortium of chemical companies hosted a two-day ChemFriends Expo for more than 1,600 sixth-grade students.
On Oct. 23, the Northwest Louisiana Section sponsored hands-on activities for about 200 local schoolchildren at the Sci-Port Discovery Center, in Shreveport. Children learned about the elements in pennies, explored the differences between metals and nonmetals, and tested various foods for starch using potassium iodide.
The Greater Houston Section hosted a day of demonstrations and activities at the Children's Museum of Houston. And students from the University of Houston celebrated NCW by making liquid nitrogen ice cream and distributing cupcakes decorated with elemental symbols.
The Texas A&M Section hosted its annual Chemistry Open House & Science Exploration Gallery at Texas A&M University, in College Station. The event drew around 1,500 students, parents, and teachers. More than 250 student and faculty volunteers facilitated 50 hands-on activities, as well as the university's popular Chemistry Road Show.
The South Texas Section celebrated Mole Day on Oct. 23, with a birthday party hosted by students from South Texas College, in McAllen. More than 100 people attended the event, which included dinner, cake, and a piÑata. Students from the college also hosted demonstrations at a public library and elementary school. Elsewhere in Texas, students from Frank Phillips College, in Borger, distributed cupcakes decorated with symbols for the elements.
In the Midwest, volunteers from the Upper Ohio Valley Section engaged visitors to Grand Central Mall, in Vienna, W.Va., in hands-on activities. Children received periodic tables and other chemistry-related gifts. Drawings were held for more than 30 prizes.
On Oct. 24, Ohio's Columbus Section held its NCW activities at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Activities included "COSI on Wheels," a traveling outreach program of the Columbus Center of Science & Industry.
Chemists from Procter & Gamble and LyondellBasell joined forces with volunteers from the Cincinnati Section to put on demonstrations at the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Duke Energy Children's Museum.
On Halloween, kids dressed in costumes arrived at the Dow Event Center, in Saginaw, Mich., to participate in SciFest, hosted by the Midland Section, MidMichigan Technicians Group, Delta College, and the Saginaw Spirit Hockey Club. Activities centered on the elements, and many kids stayed afterward to watch a hockey game between the Saginaw Spirit and the Windsor Spitfires.
On Oct. 18, roughly 50 children participated in the Illinois-Iowa Section's NCW activities at St. Ambrose University, in Davenport, Iowa. Children ages five to eight explored the magnetic properties of seven elements, then tested the magnetic properties of household items. They also learned how to get iron out of Total breakfast cereal by using iron's magnetic properties. Keeping with the food theme, children ages nine to 12 made batteries using bananas.
The Indiana Section collected 525 cans of food for a local food pantry during its NCW event at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis on Nov. 7. Other activities included a video contest for local high schools and a T-shirt design competition. Demonstrations by scientists rounded out the events.
During a home football game at the University of Notre Dame, hundreds of science fans visited the Jordan Hall of Science to participate in activities hosted by the St. Joseph Valley Section. Visitors rotated through hands-on activities and explored an interactive periodic table.
The Michigan State University Section hosted its 23rd annual Chemistry Day celebration at the Impression 5 Science Center, in Lansing. Students from Michigan State University, Olivet College, and Eaton Rapids Senior High School facilitated hands-on activities for approximately 900 visitors to the science center.
The Kalamazoo Section's celebration took place on Oct. 17 at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, where volunteers engaged visitors in 18 chemistry activities and distributed copies of Celebrating Chemistry and ChemMatters. At Gobles Branch Library, librarian Shirley A. Whitt challenged patrons with NCW puzzles and search-for-the-element activities.
In Las Vegas, volunteers from the Southern Nevada Section, the College of Southern Nevada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, hosted activities for about 120 elementary school children from Paradise Professional Development School and Vegas Verdes Elementary School.
On Oct. 22, thousands of visitors to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science had the opportunity to participate in NCW activities hosted by the Colorado Section and the student chapter of the University of Northern Colorado. Children made "Silly Putty" and observed temperature-volume relationships with balloons dipped in liquid nitrogen.
The Puget Sound Section entertained sixth-grade students from Fernwood Elementary School, in Bothell, Wash., with an afternoon of hands-on activities. Students from the Evergreen State College Chemistry Club, Pacific Lutheran University Chemistry Club, and South Puget Sound Community College also hosted NCW events.
The California Section kicked off its annual Family Science Night with a Scientific Jam. The event was held on Oct. 20 at Bret Harte Middle School, in San Jose, and more than 400 students attended. Bryan Balazs of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory delighted the audience with his "elephant's toothpaste" experiment. Jeanne Pimentel, wife of late NCW founder and ACS Past-President George C. Pimentel, donated her commemorative ACS periodic table beach blanket and talked about the chemical makeup of Mars. On Oct. 24, students from Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity at the University of California, Berkeley, gave out NCW souvenirs, such as periodic table key chains, to football fans before a home game.
At Balboa Park in downtown San Diego, nearly 1,600 high school and middle school students and their parents participated in the San Diego Section's Nov. 1 ChemExpo celebration. The event featured chemistry demonstrations by students from local colleges and universities and exhibits by local companies.
And more than 250 volunteers turned out to help the Puerto Rico Section host its annual Festival de QuÍmica celebration, which drew more than 500 students in grades 9–12.
Plans are well under way for next year's NCW celebration, "Behind the Scenes with Chemistry," which will showcase the science in television, movies, and literature. Preparations have also started for a giant celebration in 2011 of the International Year of Chemistry.
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