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George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Marc S. Reisch
February 9, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 6

Credit: Courtesy of Henry W. Heikkinen
Credit: Courtesy of Henry W. Heikkinen

Sponsored by Cengage Publishing

Henry W. Heikkinen’s influence on how chemistry is taught today is pervasive. He has had an impact on chemistry teachers and students from grade school to the university level. And his work continues to inspire chemistry and science education not only throughout the U.S., but internationally as well.

Heikkinen, 73, is professor emeritus at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), serving as professor of chemistry from 1987 to 2001, and as director or codirector of the Mathematics & Science Teaching Institute between 1987 and 2007. His scholarly work in chemistry education focused on curriculum design and evaluation, student understanding, problem-solving, and conceptual change.

As chief editor of the ACS high school textbook, “Chemistry in the Community” (ChemCom), he helped align the myriad ideas and approaches of several writing teams to produce a text used by more than 2 million students and teachers in U.S. high schools. First issued in 1988 and now in its fifth edition, the book has been adapted for use in Russia and has been translated into Spanish and Japanese.

ChemCom is organized around societal issues related to chemistry rather than around specific chemical concepts. One of Heikkinen’s former chemical education doctoral students points out that “it was Henry’s creativity, forward thinking, excellent writing, chemistry expertise, and insightful teaching that made ‘ChemCom’ a reality.” The societal-issues approach has influenced textbooks in biology, earth science, and physics.

Heikkinen was involved in the National Research Council’s work to develop national K-12 standards for science education. From 1992 to 1993, he was chair of the Science Content Working Group for the National Science Education Standards Project to develop and disseminate science learning and teaching goals, which have influenced science standards now in place in states across the nation.

Heikkinen received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Yale University in 1956. He worked as a food engineer at General Mills between 1956 and 1961 and then returned to school, receiving a master’s degree in science education from Columbia University in 1962, followed by a Ph.D. in chemical education from the University of Maryland (UMD) in 1973. His first teaching job, between 1962 and 1969, was at Richfield High School, in Minnesota, where he taught chemistry and physics.

He became a full-time faculty member at UMD in 1973 and remained there until 1986, when he joined UNC. He helped establish UNC’s nationally recognized Ph.D. program in chemical education. Over the course of his career, he directed or served on research committees of more than 50 doctoral and master’s level students. In addition, he worked as an invited consultant and speaker on science education reform in more than a dozen nations, including Thailand, Finland, and India.

An ACS member, Heikkinen chaired the ACS Division of Chemical Education in 1990. He is an elected fellow of the Finnish Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He recently received an honorary doctorate from the University of Helsinki for his leadership in international science education reform. He also received the Winchester Distinguished Scholar Award from UNC and the Leo Schubert Award for Excellence in University Teaching from the Washington (D.C.) Academy of Sciences.

Heikkinen will present the award address before the Division of Chemical Education.


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