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Highlights from National Chemistry Week 2019

‘Marvelous Metals’ theme celebrates the periodic table of elements

by Linda Wang
December 12, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 48


Susan Marie Frontczak portrays Marie Curie.
Credit: Alex Madonik
In the California Section, Susan Marie Frontczak portrays Marie Curie during a presentation at Laney College.

With its “Marvelous Metals” theme, this year’s National Chemistry Week (NCW) helped amplify the celebration of the International Year of the Periodic Table.

The nationwide outreach event took place Oct. 20–26 across the US and Puerto Rico. Nearly 90% of the American Chemical Society’s 185 local sections hosted hands-on activities and demonstrations at shopping malls, libraries, museums, and other public venues to communicate the value of chemistry in everyday life.

“NCW activities are a way to engage kids and get them to see that chemistry and science can be fun,” says Holly Davis, chair of the ACS Committee on Community Activities, which organizes NCW with the help of the ACS Office of Science Outreach.

NCW was started in 1987 as National Chemistry Day by George Pimentel, who was ACS immediate past president at the time. The annual outreach program became so popular that in 1993, National Chemistry Day was renamed National Chemistry Week.

“Since its inception, NCW has been an important, exciting, and fun way for chemists to connect and collaborate with others in their communities,” ACS president Bonnie Charpentier says. “NCW programs educate and generate enthusiasm for science with people-to-people interactions at a local level.”

This year, more than 175,000 copies of the NCW publication Celebrating Chemistry were distributed. More than 19,000 people visited the revamped NCW website, and the #NCW hashtag reached more than 35 million people.

The NCW community service event focused on recycling metals, with many local sections organizing recycling drives and tours of local recycling centers. In addition, students in grades K–12 were invited to participate in the 2019 NCW Illustrated Poem Contest (see the box on page 59 for the winners).

“Our volunteers are amazing ambassadors for chemistry,” Charpentier says. “Their dedication and hard work are invaluable and make NCW possible. I would like to thank them from my heart and have them know that their efforts have a great effect in connecting with their communities to inform and inspire.”

The following, alphabetized by local section, are highlights from this year’s celebration, collected through reports from ACS local sections.

Photo of a ping-pong cannon chemistry experiment being conducted in a classroom.
Credit: Caryn Evilia
In the Idaho Section, students at Idaho State University put on an explosive show.

The Alaska Local Section hosted a movie and pizza night in celebration of Mole Day. Volunteers also organized a Slime the Professor fundraiser booth.

The California Section hosted hands-on activities during the Solano Avenue Stroll street festival in Berkeley. Volunteers also engaged the public in activities during Family Science Night at United for Success Academy, the Bay Area Science Festival’s East Bay Science Discovery Day, the East Bay Mini Maker Faire, and BASF’s Discovery Day at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

The Central New York Section participated in the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s annual Zoo Boo event, reaching more than 200 kids with hands-on activities.

The Central Ohio Valley Section held a Chemistry of Pickling event at the Heritage Farm Museum and Village in Huntington, West Virginia. Visitors learned about the different types of pickling, viewed bacteria under a microscope, and tested the pH of various household solutions.

The Central Texas Local Section organized 10 activity stations at a local park.

The Central Wisconsin Section had students from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point lead hands-on activities at a local Boys and Girls Club.

The Chemical Society of Washington hosted a day of hands-on activities at Rockville Town Square. Volunteers from the local section, the Rockville Library Makerspace, and Richard Montgomery High School engaged more than 120 visitors in hands-on activities.

Volunteers from the Cleveland Section presented hands-on activities at various branches of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

The East Tennessee Section participated in a number of activities, including Al Hazari’s 29th annual Magic of Chemistry show at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; hands-on activities at the Tennessee STEAM Festival; a Program-in-a-Box event at Pellissippi State Community College; and Forensic Science Night at Rocky Hill Elementary School.

The Erie Local Section hosted a chemistry demonstration event at Millcreek Mall. The event featured eight interactive demonstrations for children, and the stations were staffed primarily by student volunteers from local universities.

In the Indiana-Kentucky Border Section, six high school chemistry students participated in the chemistry bowl competition at the University of Southern Indiana. Afterward, the students toured the chemistry labs with student affiliates at USI and were treated to a chemistry demonstration.

Photo of a make student engaged in an outreach activity on density.
Credit: Elena Meadows
In the Kalamazoo Section, a student learns about density during hands-on activities at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

The Kalamazoo Section’s 33rd annual Chemistry Day event at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum drew more than 700 visitors. Volunteers presented 15 hands-on activities, including using metals to clean up oil spills and removing iron from cereal.

The Kentucky Lake Section put on an NCW demonstration show at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Student volunteers from four local universities led the demonstrations.

Photo of pumpkin batteries.
Credit: Courtesy of the Midland Section
These pumpkin batteries were among the demonstrations by the Midland Section.

The La Crosse–Winona Local Section hosted its 2nd Annual Pumpkin Drop and STEM Carnival, which was attended by more than 500 people from the community. Volunteers also held hands-on activities at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse.

The Maryland Section organized activities at public libraries around Baltimore. Participants learned about metals through activities such as redox reactions in copper-zinc batteries.

The Michigan State University Section hosted activities at the Impression 5 Science Center. More than 500 people attended the event, which was facilitated by students from Michigan State University and other local schools.

The Midland Section hosted a Haunted Mine activity in which participants used black lights to locate different coins, avoiding slime and other surprises along the way.

More than 130 students participated in Mole Day at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as part of the Nebraska Section’s NCW celebration. This new annual event highlighted careers in chemistry. Activities included a raffle for an ACS mole, two quizzes, and giveaways.

Photo of a group of people from the ACS New York Local Section standing in front of a giant 3-D periodic table that they created.
Credit: Alison Hyslop
Members of the New York Local Section show off their giant 3-D periodic table.

Members of the New York Local Section unveiled their giant 3-D periodic table to commemorate the International Year of the Periodic Table at the New York Hall of Science. Thousands of volunteers representing 56 organizations contributed element designs. Volunteers also hosted hands-on activities for more than 1,200 visitors to the Hall of Science.

The North Jersey Section hosted ChemExpo, a 1-day event at Liberty Science Center. Volunteers from local colleges, universities, companies, and organizations interacted with more than 200 children, who learned about the various properties of metals.

A group of three students preparing for a Program-in-a-box activity at Marian University.
Credit: Photo by Sarah Garvey
In the Northeast Wisconsin Section, students hosted a Program-in-a-Box event at Marian University.

The Northeast Wisconsin Section hosted activities for about 30 children at the Boys and Girls Club of Oshkosh as well as at the Oshkosh Public Library. In addition, more than 50 people attended a Program-in-a-Box event at Marian University.

The Northeastern Section held outreach events at the Museum of Science, Boston, and at the Boston Children’s Museum. David Sittenfeld from the Museum of Science presented the two Phyllis A. Brauner Memorial Lectures, attended by approximately 225 people.

In the Northern New York Section, Dana Barry of Clarkson University conducted a workshop with students at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Canton, New York. She spoke about a variety of metals, including gold, silver, iron, and aluminum. Students participated in a design competition to build the best aluminum boat to carry pennies composed of zinc and copper. The local section also hosted a Program-in-a-Box event at SUNY Plattsburgh. Finally, the section hosted outreach activities for more than 300 students during Chemtoberfest.

A photo of an outreach activity where volunteers demonstrate the melting point of the metal gallium.
Credit: Courtesy of the University of Tulsa Student Chapter
In the Tulsa Section, students from the University of Tulsa demonstrated the melting point of metals such as gallium.

In the Northern Oklahoma Local Section, chemists from Phillips 66 and Chevron Phillips Chemical visited more than 50 elementary schools, conducting hands-on activities with roughly 1,400 students. Experiments included building aluminum foil boats and calculating the number of pennies they would hold.

Volunteers from the Ole Miss Local Section distributed periodic table cupcakes, hosted a Program-in-a-Box event, and handed out facts about metals associated with candy.

The Orange County Section hosted outreach activities at the Santa Ana Zoo, with residents of Santa Ana, California, receiving free admission to the zoo. Volunteers included local section members and students from 13 area colleges and universities.

The Pittsburgh Section partnered with the Carnegie Science Center to host ChemFest, a 2-day celebration of chemistry. Volunteers from local companies, government organizations, and academic institutions hosted activities for more than 2,200 local students and their teachers.

The Portland Section coordinated with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Chemistry Lab staff to provide hands-on activities to visitors of the museum.

The Princeton Local Section held its 20th NCW Activities Night at Princeton University’s Frick Chemistry Laboratory. More than 300 visitors enjoyed activities, games, and presentations. Students from Princeton gave demonstrations, Stanley Howell of Princeton gave a talk on water purification, and Ryan Amos of Princeton talked about blacksmithing.

Hundreds of students and volunteers from the Puerto Rico Section celebrate National Chemistry Week.
Credit: Guillermo Colon
More than 800 volunteers came out to celebrate the Puerto Rico Section’s Festival de Química.

The Puerto Rico Section held its annual Festival de Química at the Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan. More than 800 volunteers from 21 student chapters around Puerto Rico engaged in hands-on activities with more than 2,000 people from the general public, setting a record number of volunteers for the local section.

In the Sacramento Section, volunteers from local high schools and colleges hosted metal-themed activities at the Powerhouse Science Center.

The Saint Joseph Valley Local Section partnered with the E3 Robotics Center on STEM Fest 2019. Representatives from several metal companies talked about the metals they use in their products.

In the Salt Lake Section, members of the Westminster College Chemistry Club joined forces with the Westminster College Geology Club, the college’s Pre-Professional Health Club, the Cyprus High School ACS Chem Club, and the Great Salt Lake Institute to show the versatility of metals. The geology club organized a scavenger hunt in which participants looked at various rocks and minerals and learned how metals give them their characteristic colors. Volunteers from the Great Salt Lake Institute informed visitors about the magnetic properties of iron in meteorites.

The San Diego Section held its 32nd Chem Expo at San Diego Miramar College. In addition to volunteers hosting hands-on activities, Scout troops held an event that earned badges for 200 troop members.

The San Joaquin Valley Section organized Mad Scientist Tours for students from local high schools. These consisted of visits to commercial labs in the greater Fresno, California, area so students could see what it’s like to work as a chemist.

A photo of students standing in front of a display of periodic table cupcakes.
Credit: Ludivina Avila
In the South Texas Local Section, students from South Texas College passed out periodic table cupcakes.

Volunteers from the Sioux Valley Local Section hosted NCW demo days in Brookings and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. Each venue offered giveaways, door prizes, and hands-on activities. Volunteers from the South Texas Local Section hosted hands-on activities and demonstrations for more than 300 children at the Spooky Science Fest at Estero Llano Grande State Park. The local section also hosted a webinar, which was attended by more than 100 people.

The Southern Arizona Section hosted outreach activities at local libraries and the Children’s Museum Tucson.

The Southern Indiana Local Section helped facilitate outreach activities during the sixth annual Science Fest at Indiana University Bloomington. Participants were also treated to lab tours and a chemistry magic show.

The Southern Nevada Local Section hosted activities at the Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas. College students and local section members interacted with more than 200 kids and adults over the 7-hour event. At least 90 kids completed all five activities and earned a goody bag to take home.

Volunteers from the Southwest Georgia Local Section engaged more than 90 children and 250 adults in hands-on activities during Science Saturday at Valdosta State University. Materials were provided by the VSU Chemistry Department, the Southwest Georgia Local Section, and the VSU College of Science and Mathematics.

In the Susquehanna Valley Local Section, volunteers from the Bucknell University student affiliate groups hosted hands-on activities at a local children’s museum and handed out periodic table cupcakes.


The Texas A&M Local Section hosted a Chemistry Open House for more than 1,200 people, who were treated to demonstrations and lab tours at Texas A&M University in College Station.

In the Trenton Local Section, 33 volunteers from Mercer County Community College, Princeton University, and Rider University provided an educational experience for more than 625 elementary school students.

The Upper Ohio Valley Local Section and Marietta College Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry put on two magic shows for 88 elementary school students and their parents. Several teachers gave extra credit to students who attended. Students were given ACS pencils, stickers, tattoos, balloons, and nanomoles to take home.

In the Western Maryland Section, student affiliates from Frostburg State University hosted a Program-in-a Box event.

During the Western Michigan Local Section’s celebration of NCW, volunteers displayed what is possibly the world’s largest periodic table. Forty schools from 12 states and 3 countries designed elements for the project.

The Wisconsin Local Section took to the lobby of the Capitol Ice Arena, with student volunteers doing chemistry demonstrations before a Madison Capitols hockey game and during the two intermission periods. In addition, nearly 40 ACS members and prospective members interacted in a special suite overlooking the rink.

Next year’s NCW celebration will take place Oct. 18–24. It will focus on glues and adhesives with the theme “Sticking with Chemistry.”

NCW Illustrated Poem Contest winners

The ACS Committee on Community Activities and the ACS Office of Science Outreach have announced the winners of the 2019 National Chemistry Week Illustrated Poem Contest, in which K–12 students were invited to share their interpretation of this year’s theme, “Marvelous Metals,” in the form of illustrated poems. First-place winners in each grade category received $300. Second-place winners received $150. View all poems at

K to 2nd grade

Credit: Rhea Utturkar
K to 2nd grade
First place: Rhea Utturkar, Eastern New York Local Section


First place: Rhea Utturkar, Eastern New York Local Section


Credit: Rishi Khedekar
K to 2nd grade
Second place: Rishi Khedekar, Princeton Local Section


Second place: Rishi Khedekar, Princeton Local Section


3rd to 5th grade

Credit: Hema Gujjar
3rd to 5th grade
First place: Hema Gujjar, Princeton Local Section


First place: Hema Gujjar, Princeton Local Section


Credit: Athena Nastasia
3rd to 5th grade
Second place: Athena Nastasia, Central Arizona Section


Second place: Athena Nastasia, Central Arizona Section


6th to 8th grade

Credit: Ashmita Prajapati
6th to 8th grade
First place: Ashmita Prajapati, Northeastern Section


First place: Ashmita Prajapati, Northeastern Section


Credit: Anika Khedekar
6th to 8th grade
Second place: Anika Khedekar, Princeton Local Section


Second place: Anika Khedekar, Princeton Local Section


9th to 12th grade

Credit: Oluwatoni Salami
9th to 12th grade
First place: Oluwatoni Salami, Southwest Georgia Local Section


First place: Oluwatoni Salami, Southwest Georgia Local Section


Credit: Isabella Truong
9th to 12th grade
Second place: Isabella Truong, Greater Houston Section


Second place: Isabella Truong, Greater Houston Section


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