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ACS Comment: Sharing a passion for chemistry

by Lori Stepan, chair, ACS Committee on Community Activities
April 7, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 12

Lori Stepan.
Credit: Maria Landschoot/Penn State University
Lori Stepan

We are living through a challenging period of history that includes controversy over topics such as climate science and pandemic safety, among many others. Although we might expect that the data, insight, and recommendations provided by scientists would be the guiding light in such controversies, a surprising number of people have chosen not to believe the science. There is a lack of trust, understanding, and communication. Science and scientists have gotten a bad rap.

As scientists, we need to step up and work on building trust. Now more than ever, we need to communicate our passion for science to the public. We need to get people engaged and interested in scientific thinking from a very young age when the delight of solving a mystery can make a huge positive impression. We need to continue to encourage scientific exploration as children get older and to let them know that they are capable of being a scientist, whoever they may be. We need to eliminate the fear and distrust of science and scientists and replace it with curiosity, interest, understanding, and amazement. Science experiments can delight our senses, pique our interests, and challenge our minds. We should share experiments with as many people as possible, of all ages, sizes, races, backgrounds, cultures, and abilities. This is the goal of outreach!

The work of the American Chemical Society Committee on Community Activities is centered around these goals. Our vision is to promote understanding and appreciation of chemistry, and our mission is to support the global chemistry community through engaging outreach, resources, training, and recognition. Our committee tries to accomplish these things in many ways. Our theme teams design and promote two outreach campaigns each year: National Chemistry Week (NCW) in October and Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (CCEW) in April. For each campaign, we publish a Celebrating Chemistry booklet that is intended for students in grades 4–6 and is centered around the chosen theme. We provide additional resources and inclusive, multisensory outreach activities on our website at bit.ly/3tBK6Rw. We design tool kits and host training sessions for educators and outreach volunteers. We recognize outstanding volunteers and supporters through the ChemLuminary Awards; the Outreach Volunteer of the Year Awards, including the Global Volunteer of the Year Award; and Salutes to Excellence. We work with international chapters on ACS Chemistry Festivals. We address safety training through our Safety in Outreach Settings program. And on the Saturday before every ACS meeting, we offer a live Kids Zone outreach event that is centered on the meeting’s theme and supported by the ACS president.

As a matter of fact, we are ready to launch our CCEW campaign. This year’s celebration is coming up on April 17–23, and it’s all about bug chemistry. Think about it: bugs are important. Recent bugs in the news have included giant parachuting spiders, an alarming decline in the bee population, and a rush to stop the giant murder hornets. How much do you know about bugs and the chemistry involved? Check out our Celebrating Chemistry publication, “The Buzz about Bugs”; explore the many ways insects in nature can help us (by promoting biodiversity, pollinating fruits and vegetables, and producing honey and silk) or bug us (by giving us itchy bites or spreading disease); and find out the chemistry at play in the lives of insects.

Now more than ever, we need to communicate our passion for science to the public.

Would you like to be involved in hosting or joining an outreach event for the upcoming CCEW celebration? Contact your ACS local section to find out what it may be planning. Ask about the illustrated poem contest, the community activity, and the Celebrating Chemistry publications that are available for free in English or Spanish to local sections. You can also go to the CCEW website at bit.ly/3tE7PjU to find outreach events; download design tool kits and safety information for outreach volunteers and coordinators; learn about our illustrated poem contest for K–12 students; download PDF versions of Celebrating Chemistry; find themed articles, activities, and videos for all ages; and check out lots of other outreach resources.

Would you like to be involved in designing the next outreach campaign? Any ACS member can join a theme team for an upcoming CCEW or NCW campaign and can either contribute articles and activities for the Celebrating Chemistry publication or design other resources that will be used around the world. Maybe you would like to be interviewed by Meg A. Mole. Perhaps you would like to share your own resources and ideas. Let us know how you want to be involved. In addition, any ACS member can request to join the Committee on Community Activities if a spot is available by completing a committee preference form. Come and join us in sharing our love of chemistry. Contact us at outreach@acs.org to find out how you can participate.

How will you share your passion for chemistry this year?

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

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