Issue Date: December 19, 2011
A Healthy Dose Of Chemistry
The public got a big dose of chemistry during National Chemistry Week (NCW), the American Chemical Society’s largest outreach event, which took place on Oct. 16–22. More than 10,000 volunteers from across the U.S. turned out at museums, shopping malls, libraries, and other public places to engage the public in hands-on activities that communicate the importance of chemistry in everyday life.
This year’s theme of “Chemistry—Our Health, Our Future!” highlighted the role of chemistry in nutrition, hygiene, and medicine.
“We tried to make sure that the NCW theme was global, something that would be important to every person in the world, no matter what country they were from,” says Lynn M. Hogue, chair of the ACS Committee on Community Activities (CCA), which coordinates NCW with assistance from the ACS Office of Volunteer Support.
She adds that having a global theme was especially important this year because the NCW celebration coincided with the International Year of Chemistry, which also featured health as one of its themes, along with energy, environment, and materials.
ACS wanted people to be doing activities for NCW “that would tie in to what other people around the globe were doing,” Hogue says. “It was an enhanced version of NCW.”
NCW began in 1987 as National Chemistry Day and became National Chemistry Week in 1993. The annual event connects volunteers from the society’s 187 local sections with businesses, schools, and individuals in their communities.
“I hope that the public realizes that chemistry is all around them,” Hogue says. “I hope they develop a greater understanding of what chemistry is and what chemistry does to improve their lives, and that they have a more positive view of it.”
In celebration of NCW, ChemMatters, ACS’s magazine for high school students, and the Journal of Chemical Education featured NCW in their October issues. And copies of the ACS activity newspaperCelebrating Chemistry were made available on the ACS website. Students in grades K–12 were encouraged to participate in the NCW illustrated poem contest.
NCW activities drew the support of many corporations and local organizations. “When corporations sponsor these events and encourage their employees to participate, it’s because they recognize the ultimate value of doing things like this because it’s a very, very positive thing,” Hogue says.
Tracy A. Halmi, NCW coordinator, says that chemists should “continue communicating the positive messages of chemistry throughout the year.” She points out that ideas for hands-on activities from previous NCW celebrations are archived at www.acs.org/ncw (click on “Past Themes”).
Participating in NCW can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved, Hogue says. “I think there’s a great deal of satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’re doing something good for people.”
Volunteers are absolutely critical to the success of NCW, she adds. “CCA and I would like to thank the volunteers enormously for all their hard work and their efforts,” Hogue says. “They may be sparking an interest in a kid who will later go into science.”
The following highlights of NCW celebrations around the U.S. are based on local section reports:
Nearly 1,000 people participated in the North Jersey Section’s ChemExpo at the Liberty Science Center, in Jersey City. Hands-on activities included making toothpaste from household materials, separating casein protein from milk, and detecting the presence of iron in breakfast cereals.
The Trenton Section engaged about 650 children from the Village Charter School, in Trenton, in hands-on activities assisted by volunteers from Mercer County Community College, Rider University, and Princeton University. Children rotated through five activity stations, including an exhibit on how germs get passed around and a demonstration of good hand-washing techniques.
More than 300 volunteers turned out to help the New York Section with hands-on activities and demonstrations at the New York Hall of Science, in Queens. The event, which took place on Oct. 22, drew more than 1,000 visitors. Scientists from PepsiCo taught children how to flavor and color their own Gatorade sports drink. And scientists from International Flavors & Fragrances tested participants’ ability to identify different scents. Mr. Met, the official mascot of the New York Mets baseball team, made a special appearance and received an honorary Ph.D. for the day.
In upstate New York, more than 20 members of the Syracuse Section participated in the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund’s A Run for Their Life 5K run/walk to raise money for breast cancer research. After the event, students from local colleges performed demonstrations related to health.
Elsewhere in the state, the Northern New York Section hosted an event for fifth- and sixth-grade students at St. Mary’s School, in Canton. Dana M. Barry of Clarkson University gave a presentation, and students analyzed the labels of various foods for the presence of chemicals such as sodium, sugars, and vitamins. Another event, Chemtoberfest, featured a chemistry magic show and presentations on creating synthetic materials. And a Clarkson University hockey game included a giant periodic table of elements on ice.
At Boston’s Museum of Science, ACS President-Elect Bassam Z. Shakhashiri kicked off the Northeastern Section’s NCW celebration with the Phyllis A. Brauner lecture and a chemical demonstration. The section’s NCW events drew more than 3,000 students and 40 high school chemistry teachers.
Farther north, Maine Section member David Heroux engaged visitors at the Emery Community Arts Center, in Farmington, with a chemistry magic show. Each demonstration featured a different chemical reaction. Arthur Greenberg, a chemistry professor at the University of New Hampshire, presented a lecture on the history of chemistry and alchemy as part of Chem Fest 2011 at the University of Maine.
In the nation’s capital, the Chemical Society of Washington, in cooperation with the National Children’s Museum, participated in the Kidtacular fall festival, which was held on Oct. 30 in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon. Volunteers performed hands-on activities for children in attendance and handed out NCW-themed giveaways.
As part of the Maryland Section’s NCW activities, students at the Halstead Academy of Science & the Arts in Baltimore were treated to chemistry demonstrations. Undergrads from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, held a bake sale featuring a periodic table of cupcakes and a “Pie-a-Professor” event to raise money for the “Pennies for PUR Water” campaign (C&EN, March 28, page 43). The Chem Club at Morgan State University put together a periodic table of candy. Students from Towson University wrote essays on health. In addition, some local section members participated in a breast cancer walk.
The Delaware Section hosted the Family Science Adventure on Nov. 5 at the Independence School, in Newark. In addition to hands-on activities, children learned about the Department of Agriculture’s new dietary guidelines and how chemistry can be used to monitor health conditions. The event concluded with a demonstration by associate professor of chemistry Mike Stemniski of the University of Delaware.
Halloween worked its way into the Central Pennsylvania Section’s NCW celebration. Undergrads from Penn State University’s Nittany Chemical Society spooked kids in grades K–8 with their Halloween Science-U BOOt camp. Children also took haunted tours of the chemistry and physics labs at Penn State.
In neighboring West Virginia, the Kanawha Valley Section hosted seminars at West Virginia University Institute of Technology, the University of Charlestown, and West Virginia State University. In addition, the local section threw an IYC celebration at the University of Charlestown. Chemistry students presented posters and performed chemistry demonstrations on water quality.
At Grand Central Mall, in Vienna, W.Va., volunteers from the Upper Ohio Valley Section set up an activities booth and engaged some 90 grade-school students and their parents in activities such as measuring the amount of vitamin C in orange juice and isolating iron from fortified cereal.
In Ohio, the Dayton Section hosted events at Washington Centerville Public Library, in Dayton; the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, also in Dayton; and the Dayton Regional STEM School, in Kettering. Hands-on activities included experiments with pH, examination of sunscreen’s ultraviolet protective ability, endothermic and exothermic reactions, and tests on vitamin C.
Lake Metroparks Environmental Learning Center, in Concord Township, Ohio, hosted NCW activities on Oct. 22 for the Northeastern Ohio Section. More than 100 people engaged in activities such as determining the caloric content of snacks and analyzing the sugar content of soft drinks.
Tennessee continued its strong tradition of celebrating NCW. Al Hazari, a chemistry professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, put on his 21st “Magic of Chemistry” show, entertaining visitors to the university. Roughly 325 people attended the televised show, hosted by the East Tennessee Section. The section also collected bars of soap for charity.
On Oct. 22, the Nashville Section hosted “Expanding Your Horizons in STEM,” which highlighted chemistry and careers. The event, attended by 300 girls and 50 parents, took place at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro. Meanwhile, more than 800 visitors to the Adventure Science Center, in Nashville, participated in activities related to health and wellness. The local section also hosted a science café.
As part of the Northeast Tennessee Section’s Chemistry for Fourth Graders event, roughly 1,400 elementary school students toured Eastman Chemical’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center, in Kingsport. More than 250 volunteers from the community engaged the students in 20 activity stations. Visitors were also treated to a magic show. Regional corporations sponsored free T-shirts and backpacks filled with giveaways.
Roughly 5,000 people participated in the Indiana Section’s NCW celebration at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Volunteers distributed 800 gift bags and 500 lab coats to children within the first two hours of the event. Local companies and universities hosted activity booths, featuring activities such as extracting DNA from strawberries and experiments with polymers. Jacob Einstein, a fifth-grade student at Newby Elementary School, designed the NCW T-shirt, which was worn by more than 200 volunteers during the event. Visitors were also treated to an interactive show called “Chemistry Is a Blast.”
In Illinois, the Joliet Section’s NCW event at a local mall drew about 300 people. Activities included boat races, forensics demonstrations, and exploding pumpkins. Members from the local section and student members from Lewis University, in Romeoville, and from Illinois Valley Community College, in Oglesby, were among the volunteers.
The Illinois Heartland Section hosted hands-on activities at Howl-Zoo-Ween at the Peoria Zoo and Chemistry Day at the Children’s Discovery Museum, in Normal. More than 500 kids participated in the activities. Attendees received a copy of the NCW publication Celebrating Chemistry and a bracelet made of UV-sensitive beads.
On Oct. 8, the Michigan State University Section hosted its 25th annual Chemistry Day event at the Impression 5 Science Center, in Lansing. Local section members, joined by students from Michigan State University, Eaton Rapids High School, and Perry High School, engaged roughly 600 visitors in hands-on activities. Scientists from Emergent BioSolutions, in Lansing, also participated in the event, and the company sponsored free admission to the museum that day.
Elsewhere in Michigan, the Kalamazoo Section’s Chemistry Day event took place at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and featured 21 activity stations. Volunteers from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers supported the event. In addition, the section gathered roughly 1,500 personal hygiene products and donated them to the nonprofit organizations Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and Ministry with Community.
The Midland Section hosted climate-change talks by Andrew D. Jorgensen, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Toledo, and John R. Christy, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. The section also cosponsored a panel discussion on biofuels with the Midland Center for the Arts.
The Minnesota Section held activities at a public library in downtown Minneapolis and a library at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Nearly 200 children and their parents attended the events, which featured activities such as analyzing the vitamin C content of beverages.
NCW celebrations continued in the southern U.S., where the Baton Rouge Section partnered with Louisiana State University’s chemistry and athletic departments to put on Super Science Saturday for more than 1,000 children. Volunteers from local companies and colleges and universities helped with the demonstrations and activities. Children received a passport that they had to complete by rotating through activity stations.
Elsewhere in the state, the Northwest Louisiana Section hosted hands-on activities at the Sci-Port Discovery Center, in Shreveport, for about 180 children from Texas and Louisiana. Volunteers included students and faculty from Louisiana State University, Shreveport, and Centenary College of Louisiana.
In Mississippi, the Ole Miss Section hosted a talk by University of Mississippi Associate Provost Maurice Eftink on “Choosing and Applying to Graduate School.” In addition, members of the ACS student chapter from the University of Mississippi hosted an event to help 25 Boy Scouts receive their chemistry merit badges.
Volunteers from the Middle Georgia Section visited elementary schools to conduct NCW activities, serving more than 2,000 students. Meanwhile, ACS student members from Brewton-Parker College, in Ailey; Fort Valley State University; Georgia College, in Milledgeville; and Mercer University, in Macon, held activities, including a Saturday Math & Science Festival, chemistry competitions, chemistry magic shows at local nursing homes, career panels, and tours of chemistry labs.
The South Texas Section’s NCW activities included a talk on plant biochemical warfare by chemist Jose Luis Perez of the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and hands-on activities at the Lark Branch Library in McAllen. The section also handed out copies of the NCW publication Celebrating Chemistry and ACS’s ChemMatters magazine.
In Missouri, the Kansas City Section celebrated NCW on Oct. 23—Mole Day—at Carolyn’s Country Cousins Pumpkin Patch, in Liberty. Student volunteers from Park University, in Parkville, helped guests visualize how much is in a mole of substances such as salt and water. Visitors also guessed the number of moles of sugar in a container. Volunteers handed out brochures on how chemistry has helped shape the health and wellness industries.
During the Idaho Section’s NCW celebration, students from Idaho State University’s Pocatello and Idaho Falls campuses and the Idaho Science & Technology Charter School, in Blackfoot, put on chemistry shows for more than 800 children and adults. Other activities included visits to elementary schools, a bake sale, and a raffle. Volunteers also helped 40 Cub Scouts earn their science badges.
As part of the Southern Nevada Section’s NCW celebration, chemists from the Environmental Protection Agency and ACS student members from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, performed a chemistry demonstration show for 100 fifth-grade students and their teachers at Paradise Elementary School, in Las Vegas. ACS student members from the College of Southern Nevada, in North Las Vegas, also put on a chemical demonstration show at a local elementary school. Students from the College of Southern Nevada drew a periodic table of elements in chalk in a courtyard.
In California, visitors to the Santa Ana Zoo were treated to hands-on activities by the Orange County Section. Volunteers from 12 area colleges and universities helped with the activities, which included using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Roughly 300 visitors attended Rudy’s Radical Science show, put on by ACS member Rudy Gonzales.
The California Section held its Family Science Night at Helms Middle School in San Pablo, continuing its annual tradition of doing outreach at a different school every year since 1997. Most of the students at Helms Middle School are underrepresented minorities.
On Oct. 22, the Santa Clara Valley Section engaged 150 preschool and elementary school students in outreach activities at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose. On Oct. 30, the section also led an outreach event at the National Conference Community Day, which was hosted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science. Other activities included a chemistry festival and a Teach the Teachers workshop.
In Washington state, students from Washington State University, Tri-Cities, and Columbia Basic College produced two quilts displaying contributions of Nobel Laureates to chemistry as part of the Richland Section’s NCW celebration. In addition, ACS student members and faculty from Eastern Oregon University, in La Grande, held Saturday Science on campus. The event was open to the public but geared toward minority students.
Puerto Rico continued its strong showing for NCW. More than 200 volunteers, including undergrads from universities around Puerto Rico, graduate students, and high school students, helped visitors to the Puerto Rico Section’s Festival de Química navigate through the activity stations. One of the stations featured the IYC Global Water Experiment. The festival concluded with a chemical demonstration show put on by the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, Science on Wheels program. Meanwhile, ACS student chapters from Puerto Rico conducted their own NCW activities, including a lecture series, open houses, and visits to local companies.
Alaska also helped spread NCW cheer. As part of the Alaska Section’s NCW celebration, ACS tour speaker Keith Butler gave a talk titled “Military Explosives” in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau. Butler was also a guest speaker on a radio program called “A Juneau Afternoon.”
Next year is NCW’s 25th anniversary, and plans are well under way for a big celebration. “We’ve picked a theme that’s right on the cutting edge, and it’s nanotechnology,” Hogue says. “It’s a very exciting field, and we thought it would be great to do something that was pointing to the future.”
Further reading and video content on NCW can be found here at a special Storify compiled by Linda Wang.
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