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NCW, Chemists Celebrate Earth Day, And The Importance Of Outreach

by Ingrid Montes, Chair, Committee on Community Activities
October 27, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 43

Credit: José Pérez-Mesa
Credit: José Pérez-Mesa

AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY community outreach programs provide numerous opportunities for volunteers to connect with their ACS divisions and local section as well as with their friends and neighbors—scientists and nonscientists alike. These programs and the materials that ACS provides to support them are reputable resources and generate interest in science among various populations, but perhaps most important, among elementary school children. The programs can also be used to promote public awareness of chemistry's positive role in our daily lives.

ACS President Bruce E. Bursten writes in C&EN (Jan. 7, page 2), "Communication and education are the foundations of progress for our society, and I hope that our efforts in other areas will be built on these dual pillars." The ACS community outreach programs all strive toward this lofty goal.

Allow me to outline two of these programs—the recently celebrated National Chemistry Week (NCW) and the growing activity Chemists Celebrate Earth Day, which will next be held on April 22, 2009.

NCW, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, was conceived in 1986 by former ACS president George C. Pimentel. Pimentel originally coined it "National Chemistry Day," but by 1989 more than half of the local sections were extending their day of celebration to a full week. In 1993, ACS officially approved NCW as an annual event.

Every year, NCW has a different theme. Each theme is carefully considered by the Committee on Community Activities and is featured in relevant articles, activities, and numerous other products. Past themes have included "Earth's Atmosphere and Beyond!" "Health & Wellness," "The Joy of Toys," "Your Home—It's All Built on Chemistry," and last year's 20th-anniversary theme, "The Many Faces of Chemistry."

This year's theme was "Having a Ball with Chemistry," and it focused on the chemistry of sports. This year's Celebrating Chemistry, an annual publication geared for elementary school children, was based on this theme and demonstrated through articles and hands-on activities how chemistry has improved safety gear used in sports, as well as how chemistry has contributed to innovation in equipment and apparel used by athletes and even in sports themselves. With the recent conclusion of the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing, the "Having a Ball with Chemistry" edition of Celebrating Chemistry was a timely publication that many could relate to directly.

NCW continues to grow yearly. Approximately 180 of the 189 local sections had volunteers who served as 2008 NCW event coordinators for their section, and more than 200,000 copies of Celebrating Chemistry were printed. Annually, more than 100,000 people attend NCW events and activities throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The other program, which is also quickly gaining in popularity, is ACS's Chemists Celebrate Earth Day celebration. CCED was developed to complement Earth Day, an event started by Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) in 1970. Earth Day's purpose has always been to show support for a sustainable and healthy Earth, as well as to educate the public about their responsibility to maintain a green planet.

CHEMISTS, OF COURSE, are not new to these concepts. Chemists have often led the charge by developing recyclable plastics, phosphate-free detergents, and cleaner burning fuels. They have also launched green chemistry initiatives and improved environmental monitoring techniques. As the world's largest scientific society, ACS was happy to officially join the Earth Day celebration on April 22, 2004, and has held yearly CCED celebrations ever since.

Like NCW, CCED has a theme each year. On a cyclical basis, these themes revolve around four general and always relevant topics to Earth: water, air, soil, and recycling. Past theme titles were "What Do You Know about H2O?" "Air—Here, There, Everywhere," "Chemis—TREE," "Dig It!" and "Recycling—Chemistry Can!"

The 2008 CCED theme was "Streaming Chemistry," which focused on bodies of water. More than 130 local sections participated in numerous activities and events, along with many ACS student affiliates chapters and high school chemistry clubs. K–12 students participated in an illustrated haiku contest that received hundreds of entries. Winners received prizes for their creativity and artistry using the year's theme. The celebration reached more than 13 million people through various media outlets.

Local section participation is on the rise. In fact, at this year's ChemLuminary Awards, both the Puerto Rico and Virginia Sections were given awards for their outstanding CCED events. The Puerto Rico Section took home the prize for "Greatest Community Involvement" and the Virginia Section was awarded most "Creative and Innovative Use of the Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Theme."

Both NCW and CCED are ideal venues for getting involved with your community and educating the public about chemistry's positive role in our daily lives. The activities can be easily done in the classroom or in many other public venues, and they offer a terrific vehicle for a diverse group of students, across ages, to work and interact with each other.

If you have been thinking about getting involved, I encourage you to choose either NCW or CCED as your starting point. For those of you already volunteering your time and energy, the ACS Committee on Community Activities thanks you and applauds your efforts.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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