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Putting A Human Face On Chemistry: Presidential Call To Arms

by Thomas H. Lane, President-Elect, and Wayne E. Jones Jr.
November 3, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 44


WE BELIEVE STRONGLY in the ACS vision, “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.” It is a powerful and direct statement that truly underscores what we as chemists do for society: help people.


Unfortunately, not everyone understands or believes that this is what chemists do. A more common perception is that chemists “mix things” or “blow stuff up.” To be successful, to make a dent in the misperceptions surrounding chemistry, chemists, and chemicals, ACS needs your help. Will you commit to helping put a human face on chemistry by building new relationships within your communities and across the globe? If so, the society needs you to create and provide educational opportunities and experiences to help the general public better understand that anything they can see, touch, taste, or smell—anything they can perceive—is composed of chemicals, the raw materials we use to create substances which improve people’s lives.

In an effort to help ACS local sections educate their communities about what chemists do professionally and the role chemistry plays in everyday life, the society has created the Local Section Partnership Project. Each local section has received a “presidential call to arms” to start conversations with people, service groups, and organizations that might fall outside its usual interactions. Specifically, ACS wants local sections to partner, to develop a relationship with a non-science-based service or community organization, and to cosponsor an event that educates the public about chemistry. Partnership examples could include, but certainly are not limited to, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Girl & Boy Scouts of America, local fire stations, community youth centers, or nature parks.

Venues like these are rife with people who are experts at mentoring young people, and are constantly looking for ways to productively interact with children. It’s fine to take youngsters to ball games or help them conduct car washes and other such activities, but why not help them discover chemistry and how it improves our daily lives? Many of these organizations are looking for innovative programs and activities for kids to do, so why not make them chemistry-based? Perhaps your student affiliates chapter could make contact with some of these service organizations and discuss how you might team up and do some chemistry demonstrations for the children. And while you’re at it, let them know that as chemists, we create things that improve lives and we help people.

"Will you commit to helping put a human face on chemistry by building new relationships within your communities and across the globe?"

ACS CHALLENGES YOU to use technology in creative ways so that your message will be received and understood by Generations X, Y, and, most important, Z. It is essential that we help our youth understand that the issues facing the planet today are extremely complicated but that they can contribute to the solutions by studying math and science. Give them permission to be anything that they choose and help them understand the tremendous contributions that are made today through chemistry.

Measuring the success of collaborations such as these is no easy task. However, it’s central to everything we do as scientists and engineers. It is imperative that chemists measure the outcomes of our work, no matter how hard it might be. We also believe that we need to measure perceptions, which is another very difficult thing to do. If we hope to have a positive influence, we must understand the attitudes of people—especially students—toward science, technology, engineering, and math.

This will require an investment of time, money, and personal commitment. It is an investment that we firmly believe will pay off in the long run for all of society.

Grants of up to $500 are available through the Committee on Local Section Activities. More information and application forms are available on What outreach or community activity would be most effective at putting a human face on chemistry and how can we make it happen? We invite you to send us your comments, thoughts, or suggestions to,, or We really do want to hear from you.

Being connected with your community is central to spreading the word about the contributions of chemists and chemistry to the lives of all citizens. Together, chemists can extend our hands in friendship and work to create a better understanding of the transforming power of chemistry.

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



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