Issue Date: December 17, 2012
NCW’s Silver Anniversary
Nanotechnology made a major foray into the public spotlight during this year’s National Chemistry Week (NCW), which took place at venues across the U.S. on Oct. 21–27. The American Chemical Society’s Committee on Community Activities (CCA) coordinates the weeklong celebration with help from the ACS Office of Volunteer Support.
This year’s event featured a theme of “Nanotechnology: The Smallest Big Idea in Science!” It marked the 25th anniversary of NCW, which was launched in 1987 as National Chemistry Day by the late George C. Pimentel, past-president of ACS. ACS local sections around the U.S. quickly adopted the celebration, and in 1993 National Chemistry Day became National Chemistry Week.
“I think George would have been very pleased at what ACS has done with NCW and how much energy they’ve put into it,” says Pimentel’s widow, Jeanne.
NCW is now ACS’s largest annual outreach effort to inform the public about the importance of chemistry in everyday life and to inspire the next generation of scientists. More than 90% of the society’s 187 local sections participate each year, putting their own spin on the celebration. Hands-on activities, demonstrations, and other events take place at libraries, museums, shopping malls, and other public venues.
NCW “provides ACS members with a unique opportunity to engage the general public and instill in them the excitement of chemistry,” says Madeleine Jacobs, ACS executive director and chief executive officer. “When you see the faces of the kids who attend NCW events, you know that you’ve captured their interest and enthusiasm, and that’s important as we try to get more children interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
To celebrate NCW’s silver anniversary, ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri organized a daylong symposium during the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia titled “Communicating Chemistry & Public Engagement: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of National Chemistry Week.” And NCW volunteers and coordinators enjoyed a special reception held in their honor.
Shakhashiri says he wanted the symposium to showcase the past successes of NCW and at the same time look toward the future by identifying opportunities to broaden NCW’s reach. “ACS members for over 25 years have contributed to communicating the beauty of chemical transformations to a wide variety of audiences,” he says. “The challenge we face now is to adapt to the rapidly changing world and devise effective mechanisms for engaging the public in matters related to chemistry, science, and their role in society.” To reach a broader audience, NCW’s focus needs to expand beyond public outreach and include public engagement, Shakhashiri notes.
ACS Board Chair William F. Carroll Jr. says that in addition to engaging the public, NCW also has a role in engaging the chemistry community. “While we think that what we’re doing are all these great things for the public, in many ways we’re doing these things to reenergize ourselves and to recommit and remind ourselves of some of the reasons that we got into chemistry in the first place,” he says. “This is a labor of love for people who are excited about their field.”
Jacobs says she hopes NCW’s impact will reach beyond U.S. borders. “Looking to the future, we have the opportunity to broaden the chemical knowledge base of people around the world,” she says. “The 2011 International Year of Chemistry celebration opened the gateway for us to share NCW resources with other countries and chemical societies. In the years to come, I look forward to seeing our materials available in many languages and working with international societies that may wish to have similar celebrations of their own.”
Mary L. Good, who as ACS president in 1987 supported the creation of National Chemistry Day and is a longtime NCW volunteer, says one approach to broadening the program’s reach may be through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Other volunteers agree. “We’ve got to make ourselves visible on the Web in a way that we haven’t done before,” says Alex Madonik, an NCW coordinator for the California Section. “There are better tools than ever for us to do outreach if we’re willing to seize them.”
NCW has “been wonderful, and now I think it’s time to spread it further,” Pimentel says. She urges volunteers to think creatively about ways to make chemistry even more mainstream—perhaps by enlisting the help of celebrities and entertainers as goodwill ambassadors for chemistry.
This year’s nanotechnology theme gave ACS an opportunity to partner with some new organizations, says Robert de Groot, who cochaired NCW’s 25th anniversary celebration. For example, Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, a national community of researchers and informal science editors, offered resources and activity ideas for NCW; and the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, a partnership of 14 nanotechnology user facilities, provided support for NCW activities.
ACS offices and divisions also got involved in the celebration. The Office of Public Affairs’ Digital Services team prepared videos about NCW, and the Publications Division featured content from several ACS journals centered on the topic of nanotechnology. On Aug. 9, ACS Webinars hosted a webinar titled “Public Outreach: A 25-Year Perspective.”
Copies of the NCW publication, Celebrating Chemistry, were available online in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. And as in previous years, students in grades K–12 participated in an illustrated poetry contest.
NCW isn’t just for kids. “When we do chemical demonstrations for children we have to remember that their parents are standing right behind them,” says NCW Chair Tracy Halmi. “We’re not only reaching the kids; we’re reaching the kids and their parents.”
Students who volunteer to assist with NCW activities also benefit from the experience. “If you can describe something to a professor, that’s one thing, but if you can describe something to a kid and have them understand it, you truly know what you’re talking about and you have a great grasp of the subject,” says Jon Fifer, a senior majoring in chemistry at Pennsylvania State University’s Behrend College in Erie, who has been volunteering with NCW for the past two years.
Doing outreach has boosted Fifer’s self-confidence. “I used to be a really shy guy,” he says. “But ever since I started doing NCW, I’m not afraid to walk up to anyone and talk to them, especially if it’s something I’m interested in.”
Participating in NCW can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved, says Lynn M. Hogue, chair of CCA. “You never know what spark you may give to a kid that later on causes them to choose a scientific career or gives them an interest in learning things about science so that they can be more informed,” she says. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to promote a better understanding of what we do.”
NCW could not happen without the efforts of dedicated volunteers, Halmi says. “I want to thank every NCW volunteer around the country for putting together their local activities,” she says. “It’s a tremendous amount of work from our members, and we’re very appreciative of the effort.”
Highlights of this year’s NCW celebration around the U.S. include:
The Baton Rouge Section’s Super Science Saturday attracted more than 1,000 children and their parents, who collected stamps in their NCW passports by visiting activity stations featuring nanotechnology. Volunteers from 17 groups representing industry, academia, and scientific societies assisted children in the activities. Super Science Saturday is a joint project of the Baton Rouge Section, the Louisiana State University department of chemistry, and the LSU athletic department. Through the event, the local section collected eight barrels of food and a cash donation for a local food bank.
As part of the Binghamton Section’s NCW celebration, members of the State University of New York, Binghamton, Graduate Chemistry Club and Binghamton’s Materials Research Society student chapter organized an outreach event on Oct. 27 at Oakdale Mall, in Johnson City, N.Y. People of all ages stopped by to explore chemistry at the nanoscale. Activities included making DNA necklaces, observing gold nanoparticles, and investigating thin films.
The California Section hosted its popular Family Science Night on Oct. 18 at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, in Berkeley. Jeanne Pimentel welcomed hundreds of children and their families with a brief history of NCW. Activities included making paper models of a C60 buckyball. Other highlights of Family Science Night included a chemistry show by Bryan Balazs of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a musical performance by Scientific Jam, a band made up of middle school science teachers. To help celebrate NCW, the City of Berkeley presented the section with a proclamation honoring the program.
In the Chicago Section, the Streator Girl Scout troop hosted the Mad Scientist Monster Bash at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Streator, Ill., to celebrate both the 25th anniversary of NCW and the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of the USA. More than 100 Girl Scouts participated in the Oct. 26 event, which featured activities such as making volcanoes and testing water solubility. Girls imitated their favorite monster movements, and monster-themed lab coats were judged on creativity.
In the Colorado Section, the ACS student chapter of the University of Northern Colorado kicked off NCW with a day of hands-on activities at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science that attracted more than 800 children. The student chapter also hosted other events during the week, including free periodic table cupcakes, a make-a-mole contest, and an activity to estimate the density of candy corn.
Big moments in the East Tennessee Section’s celebration included a chemistry magic show at Knoxville Montessori School by Al Hazari, a chemistry professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Back at UT’s chemistry department, Hazari put on his annual chemistry magic show for some 300 people from the East Tennessee area.
In addition, chemistry clubs at UT, Maryville College, and Walters State Community College put up displays celebrating NCW. The section publicized NCW through newspaper articles, radio announcements, and television coverage. It also distributed NCW materials to East Tennessee area schools and museums. The mayor of Knoxville presented a proclamation honoring NCW.
On Oct. 26–27, the Idaho Section and the ACS student chapter at Idaho State University hosted two chemistry demonstration shows at the university for more than 400 members of the general public. After the shows, attendees participated in hands-on activities, entered a raffle for prizes, and were treated to liquid nitrogen ice cream. Students and local section members also visited local elementary schools and gave presentations on chemistry.
On Nov. 3, the Indiana Section hosted a day of hands-on activities for more than 3,000 visitors to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Volunteers from 14 different organizations engaged visitors in hands-on activities, and visitors received gift bags containing NCW pencils, logo tattoos, and celebration booklets. The section also held a high school video contest and an NCW T-shirt design competition for students in fifth and sixth grade.
The Joliet Section in Illinois celebrated NCW with a Halloween chemical magic show on Oct. 3 at the Shorewood-Troy Public Library. Roughly 50 people attended the event. On Oct. 31, the section treated the residents and staff of the Lexington Health Network’s nursing home in Schaumburg, Ill., to a Magic of Chemistry show.
Visitors to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum on Oct. 13 tried 24 hands-on activities presented by volunteers from the Kalamazoo Section. Many of the activities centered around the nanotechnology theme, and participants who completed 10 of the activities received a stuffed nanomole.
The Kentucky Lake Section celebrated NCW with a demonstration festival at UT Martin, on Oct. 25. Students from five local colleges and universities led the activities, and they were joined by fifth-grade students from Dresden Elementary School. In addition, members of the section lobbied for and received NCW proclamations from Tennessee mayors of Weakley County, Martin, and Jackson.
In the Lehigh Valley Section, the Penn State Berks Chemical Society celebrated NCW on Oct. 21 with a kickoff celebration at the Reading Public Museum. On Oct. 27, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania participated in NanoSaturday at Penn State, Berks. The scouts learned about nanotechnology in self-cleaning clothes and magnetic nail polish.
The Middle Georgia Section reached more than 5,000 members of the public with its NCW activities, which included hands-on activities at Milledgeville Mall, Mole Day demonstrations at a preschool, a community-wide cookout at a local park, and NCW Family Fun Night at Georgia College & State University (GCSU), in Milledgeville. Family Fun Night featured chemistry magic shows, a mad scientist maze, planetarium shows, and tours of the Natural History Museum & Planetarium at GCSU.
In the Mississippi Section, Itawamba Community College’s science club celebrated Mole Day by hosting chemistry demonstrations outside the college’s student center. The activities included a challenge to see whether participants could chew gum and eat chocolate at the same time. At Octoberfest, in Cleveland, Miss., the ACS student chapter from Delta State University entertained visitors with hands-on demonstrations of the properties of graphene and thin films.
The Nashville Section celebrated the 25th anniversary of NCW with more than 25 days of chemistry. The local section held a science day at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, professional development workshops for teachers and parents, and a career event for high school and college students. The local section also received proclamations from mayors in multiple cities.
Aegis Sciences Corp., in Nashville, also hosted NCW activities, including Pipette Olympics, a scavenger hunt, and daily trivia contests. In addition, the ACS student chapter of Western Kentucky University hosted a number of activities, such as a Mole Day competition to see who could come closest to weighing 6.02 oz of frozen yogurt and toppings.
The New York Section held its annual NCW event at the New York Hall of Science, in Queens. More than 300 volunteers from academia and industry engaged roughly 1,000 children and their parents in hands-on activities and demonstrations. Dennis M. Walcott, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, visited the activity stations and spoke with volunteers, kids, and their families. In addition, Mr. Met, the New York Mets’ mascot, was given an honorary Ph.D. for the day.
On Oct. 23–24, the Northeast Tennessee Section held its 22nd annual Celebration of Chemistry for Fourth-Graders event at Eastman Chemical’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center. The event drew nearly 1,500 fourth-graders from 24 schools in northern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. Hands-on activities, demonstrations, and exhibits illustrated the role of science in everyday life.
In the Northeastern Section, visitors to the Museum of Science in Boston and the Boston Children’s Museum learned about nanoscience through a variety of demonstrations and activities, including building a giant model of a carbon nanotube. More than 40 high school chemistry teachers participated in a nanoscience workshop at Burlington High School, in Massachusetts. The local section also held a science café event highlighting the chemistry of wine.
Volunteers, including chemists, students, and high school chemistry teachers, presented hands-on activities during the North Jersey Section’s annual ChemExpo at the Liberty Science Center, in Jersey City, on Oct. 20. Elsewhere in the state, employees from BASF visited local elementary schools and presented Kids’ Lab, a hands-on science program developed by the company.
The Northern New York Section hosted its second annual Chemtoberfest at SUNY Potsdam. The event drew more than 1,000 people. At St. Mary’s School, in Canton, N.Y., Dana M. Barry of Clarkson University gave a presentation on nanotechnology to fifth- and sixth-graders. And at Clarkson, in Potsdam, ACS student members displayed a periodic table on the ice during a hockey game and hosted the annual Chuck-a-Puck contest.
The Orange County Section hosted a day of outreach at Santa Ana Zoo, with free admission for the California city’s residents. Students from 12 local colleges and universities assisted children with hands-on activities, including making liquid nitrogen ice cream. More than 2,500 people participated in the event, which also included the popular Rudy’s Radical Science show by ACS member Rudy Gonzales.
On Oct. 26–27, the Pittsburgh Section held its 14th annual NCW outreach event at Carnegie Science Center, drawing more than 3,700 people. Approximately 300 volunteers from 34 groups and organizations assisted participants with hands-on activities and demonstrations.
In New Jersey, the Princeton Section held NCW Nanotechnology Activities Night at Princeton University’s Frick Laboratory on Oct. 26. Nearly 300 visitors rotated through more than two dozen nanotechnology-related activities. They were assisted by more than 100 volunteers, including ACS members; local scientists; university staff; postdocs; and graduate, undergraduate, and high school students.
The Puerto Rico Section hosted a green chemistry fashion show to showcase more than 30 designs incorporating recycled materials. The local section also hosted its annual Festival de Química at Paseo de la Princesa, in San Juan. More than 2,000 people enjoyed hands-on activities related to nanotechnology and were assisted by more than 500 volunteers, including students from local colleges and universities. Elsewhere in Puerto Rico, ACS student chapters and ChemClubs organized chemical demonstrations, chemistry contests, lecture series, public exhibits, and open houses.
The San Diego Section’s ChemExpo event took place at Balboa Park on Oct. 27. Approximately 1,000 students from 47 schools participated in hands-on activities. Students earned extra credit from their teachers for these activities, and raffle prizes were awarded to the school with the best attendance.
The South Florida Section held its Gross-Out Science Halloween Weekend at the Museum of Discovery & Science in Fort Lauderdale. Some 40 college students presented chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities to roughly 450 children and their parents. In addition, students from Palm Beach State College engaged children in hands-on activities at Palm Beach Zoo.
The Southern Nevada Section presented a chemical demonstration show to 100 fifth-graders and their teachers at Paradise Elementary School on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Oct. 25. Each student received a gift bag, which included periodic table wallet cards, NCW stickers and holographic pencils, and NCW logo tattoos.
Members of the Syracuse Section promoted NCW through hands-on activities at the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund’s A Run for Their Life event on Oct. 14. Some local section members also participated in the run/walk, despite rainy weather. A separate NCW event took place at the Destiny USA shopping center, in Syracuse, on Oct. 21. About 180 people participated in the event. The section also hosted a food drive to support the Food Bank of Central New York.
The Texas A&M Section celebrated its 25th annual Chemistry Open House and Science Exploration Gallery on Oct. 27 at Texas A&M University. The nanotechnology theme was featured prominently in a Chemistry Road Show demonstration. More than 150 door prizes were handed out after the show. Hands-on and computer activities, guided lab tours, and demonstrations ran concurrently throughout the day as part of the Science Exploration Gallery event.
The Upper Ohio Valley Section held activities at Grand Central Mall in Vienna, W.Va. Children’s heights were measured in nanometers, and participants were shown examples of how small nanoparticles are. Some two dozen volunteers, including college students and faculty members, assisted children with the activities. Drawings were held for chemistry-related prizes.
The Western Michigan Section’s Chemistry at the Mall event took place at Lakes Mall, in Muskegon, Mich., on Oct. 13. The event included four 45-minute presentations, as well as tables from 10 local companies featuring hands-on activities and giveaways. Roughly 400 children from the community attended the event. The chapter also reached out to homeschooling families as a way to supplement their curricula.
Planning is already under way for next year’s NCW celebration, which will explore energy and sustainable resources with the theme “Energy: Now and Forever!” NCW will take place on Oct. 20–26, 2013.
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