How old were you when you first noticed the wonder of science? Do you remember the excitement and pure joy you felt with that first scientific awareness? What were you doing at the time? Was a teacher involved? Take a moment and reflect on the start of your love of science and the path that led to a career. It is time to pay it forward.
All members of the American Chemical Society have a unique opportunity to awaken this curiosity in others and improve the public’s perception of chemistry by reaching out to your communities. These outreach activities can take many forms and include helping at events organized by your local section, working with Boy and Girl Scouts, doing demos at a library, and visiting your child’s class at school.
So why do it? The general public is becoming more scientifically illiterate. In this Information Age, people are constantly bombarded with an overwhelming amount of claims but have little scientific background to help sort fact from fiction. When products claim to not contain any “chemicals,” and the public perceives that as a good thing, we have a public relations problem. How does the public perceive scientists? Like it or not, the “mad scientist” image still prevails, complete with crazy hair, white lab coat, smoking flasks, and a mission to do evil.
By doing outreach, you can help change these images of chemistry and scientists. Participation in outreach humanizes the profession and puts a face on a scientist. Small investments in time and energy can reap huge rewards in greater community understanding and support.
ACS sponsors two major outreach events each year, Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED) and National Chemistry Week (NCW). Here is a recap of what was done for CCED and a preview of what is happening this fall for NCW.
CCED’s theme this year was “Plants—The Green Machines!” and it was celebrated on April 22 in 100 ACS local sections with 111 confirmed CCED coordinators. Here are some highlights of the celebration:
■ More than 79,000 copies of the Earth Day 2010 edition of Celebrating Chemistry, “Plants—The Green Machines!” were distributed.
■ The North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS) reported that as of July 12, CCED radio coverage was broadcast 309 times in 37 different states to an audience of 21,423,180 listeners. In addition, the CCED press release generated 236 news articles in 21 states with a readership of 6,336,528 people. The websites on which the press release was featured were viewed by 57,006,765 unique visitors per month, and the press release was viewed 248 times on www.napsnet.com.
■ National winners of the CCED 2010 Illustrated Poetry Contest are posted on the Chemists Celebrate Earth Day ACS Network Group (if you have not created an ACS Network profile, you will be requested to do so) and on www.acs.org/earthday.
National Chemistry Week 2010 is Oct. 17–23, and the theme is “Behind the Scenes with Chemistry!” It explores the chemistry behind what is commonly perceived as “magic” in the movies.
A number of educational resources are available online at www.acs.org/ncw for teachers to engage students with this year’s theme and positive messages about chemistry. The Youth Activity Patch program encourages individuals and youth groups to participate in chemistry-related activities sponsored at the local level. The goal of the program is to capture the interest of young people in chemistry through activities. Students should fulfill two activities from four categories as given in the guidelines.
In addition to the Youth Activity Patch program and the Celebrating Chemistry publication, the NCW presence on www.acs.org also provides additional activities for children, kid-related chemistry career profiles, a sample theme-related PowerPoint presentation, and a collection of podcasts in both English and Spanish. Finally, book and electronic resource lists are provided; they comprise a compendium of websites and other resources related to the NCW theme, sorted by topic with annotations.
The community event for this year is a Science Café. Science Cafés are events that typically involve lively conversations with an expert about current science topics. They are open to the public and usually take place in casual settings like pubs and coffeehouses. Local section members are encouraged to lead a “Behind the Scenes with Chemistry!” Science Café in your communities. Funding is available via the Committee on Local Section Activities’ Science Café Mini Grant program. Contact your local section chair for more information.
This year’s K–12 contest is a poster contest focused on “Where’s the Chemistry?” The posters should depict common applications of chemistry that people might not normally think are related to chemistry. Deadlines for the local contest vary by local section. The winners of the local contests are entered in the national contest, where first- and second-place winners receive a cash award.
For more information on National Chemistry Week, the NCW 2010 Poster Contest, and the Science Café community events, visit www.acs.org/ncw or call (800) 227-5558 ext. 4458. You can also connect online through the NCW ACS Network Group and on Facebook.
If you have helped with these events in the past, keep it up! You are to be commended on a job well done, and I extend my deep thanks. If you have never participated before, I encourage you to get out of your lab or classroom and do something. You will be helping to communicate the constructive aspects of chemistry to your community. Who knows, you might provide the spark to a child whose eyes will be opened to the wonders of chemistry.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.