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Outreach milestone: Chemistry and the environment

by Michael McGinnis, Chair, ACS Committee on Community Activities
April 2, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 14


A photo of Michael McGinnis.
Credit: Mark Collier/Norwich University
Michael McGinnis

In 2003, a small group of visionary American Chemical Society staff, as well as members of the original National Chemistry Week task force, developed the idea to highlight chemistry’s positive impact on the environment on April 22, Earth Day, every year. In 2004, Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED) launched as a pilot program, with less than a dozen local sections participating.

In 2018, the Committee on Community Activities marks the 15th anniversary of CCED and proudly expands this signature program to Chemists Celebrate Earth Week(CCEW), which will take place April 22–28. More than 130 local sections are expected to participate.

CCEW communicates the positive role that chemistry plays in the world. CCED originally rotated its yearly themes around water, the atmosphere, plants and soil, and recycling. Those themes are still the underpinnings of the weeklong outreach event. The 2018 theme, “Dive into Marine Chemistry,” explores marine chemistry, marine life, and the marine chemists who study the oceans.

What can you do to share the excitement and science of chemistry?

In this year’s CCEW edition of the activity publication “Celebrating Chemistry,” readers can explore marine chemistry topics. Chemists Melanie Daniels, Sheila Kanodia, and Cary Supalo guide us through the activity “Seaweeds: Nature’s Marine Chemists” by looking at the importance—and chemistry—of seaweeds. Did you know that some seaweeds can grow to 0.30 meters tall? Or that seaweeds synthesize alginates, a natural polymer? Other articles in “Celebrating Chemistry” uncover color chemistry and minerals in the seas.

The power of outreach is the activities, and I dig activities with color changes. “Salt Water Rainbows” guides budding chemists through a density activity that uses colored solutions of different salt concentrations. Although obvious for most chemists, the four-color rainbow of layered salt water is just the beginning of the conversation. In the activity “Oil Spill!” participants are guided through a hypothetical cleanup of an oil spill at sea using a homemade oil spill in a pie pan. Why don’t oil and water mix? What material works best? What is cost effective? What is a surfactant, and how can that help clean an oil-soaked animal’s feathers? The questions—and answers—go on.

Did you know that all CCEW themes have a community event? The 2018 CCEW community event is to plan a trip to learn more about seafood in your community. What kinds of seafood are available? Where does it come from? Are the fish wild caught or farmed? Is the seafood fresh or frozen? What are the healthiest kinds of seafood to eat? Are there risks in eating seafood? Find out why fish is brain food.

What can you do to share the excitement and science of chemistry? ACS is advancing science, advocating for chemistry, enabling career development, educating the public, supporting future chemists, and promoting diversity. ACS outreach programs through the Committee on Community Activities’ National Chemistry Week and CCEW events provide the tools and resources to educate the public and promote the value of chemistry through outreach. CCEW enables ACS members to participate in two of ACS’s four strategic goals: goal 3, support excellence in education, and goal 4, communicate chemistry’s value. Approximately three-quarters of ACS local sections have identified CCEW coordinators and are planning CCEW activities.


Connect with or, better yet, volunteer to be your local section’s National Chemistry Week or CCEW coordinator. Official coordinators can receive materials from the ACS Office of Science Outreach and can order complimentary boxes of “Celebrating Chemistry” in English and in Spanish from the ACS Store. Last year, more than 220,000 copies of “Celebrating Chemistry” and “Celebrando la Química” were distributed nationwide. “Celebrating Chemistry” has been vetted for safety concerns, and it contains articles and activities that are appropriate for fourth- through sixth-grade students. The 2018 CCEW edition contains the activities “Seashells: Antacids of the Oceans,” “Colors under the Sea,” “Salt Water Rainbows,” “Seaweeds: Nature’s Marine Chemists,” “Oil Spill!,” and “Minerals from Sea Water.” What’s more, Meg A. Mole interviews ocean chemistry researcher Frank Millero about his research on carbon dioxide’s impact on the oceans.

Do you know an outstanding outreach volunteer? In an effort to recognize the immeasurable outreach efforts made by local section volunteers, the Committee on Community Activities established the Local Section Outreach Volunteers of the Year recognition program. Every year, each local section can recognize one individual for demonstrating extraordinary outreach volunteer service within the section.

ACS chemists are called to communicate chemistry’s vital role through outreach. The impact of public outreach efforts on the community can be significant. Visit, or call (800) 227-5558 for more information on National Chemistry Week, CCEW, and other outreach programs. You can also connect online through the ACS Network, Facebook, and Twitter. Engage the public this spring, and dive into marine chemistry!

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


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