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In Praise Of Volunteers

by A. Maureen Rouhi
December 10, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 50

Credit: Paul Lewer
Nick Osborn installing the nuclear chemistry panel on the “Think Like a Molecule” wall of the St. Vincent Medical Group pediatric office, Zionsville, Ind.
Credit: Paul Lewer

During this season of giving, let’s pause to celebrate the often-unsung work of chemists who volunteer generously to promote scientific awareness.

The power of volunteering comes through in several parts of this issue. On page 55, Cheryl B. Frech, chair of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Public Relations & Communications, shares some of the reasons members enjoy participating in the ACS Chemistry Ambassadors program. ACS launched the program in 2009 to educate the public about chemistry’s value.

Meanwhile, on page 49, Senior Editor Bethany Halford describes a program of the Girl Scouts of the USA and the New York Academy of Sciences “to bring more science to girls in middle school.” Volunteer mentors and role models drive the program; one of them is Mary Ellen Heavner, who is working on a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the City University of New York. Despite the time commitment—90 minutes to prepare for a two-hour troop meeting, 90 minutes to travel from her home in Queens to the Girl Scout troop in Brooklyn, and 90 minutes to return home, every week for five weeks—Heavner wants to do it again. “The girls are so energetic,” she tells Halford. “When their eyes turn on and they have an answer to a question, it’s really exciting.”

Credit: Paul Lewer
Molecules associated with the brain and with a variety of chemistry careers, as well as a mobile of world-renowned chemists, are among the decorations designed to engage visitors at the St. Vincent clinic.
Credit: Paul Lewer

Volunteers not only work directly with people, but sometimes they also work with spaces, making them enticing for those who use them. Take the Newscripts item by Senior Editor Linda Wang, on page 64, about the playground at the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, Ill. The playground’s jungle gym is built in the shape of a buckyball; its rope climb resembles a nanotube. The people behind the chemistry-themed playground are University of Wisconsin, Madison, chemists Jim Maynard, Andrew Greenberg, and John W. Moore. They hope the chemistry-inspired play equipment “gets children interested in nanoscience.”

The transformation of a waiting room in a pediatric office of the St. Vincent Medical Group, in Zionsville, Ind., as described by Assistant Managing Editor Sophie Rovner on page 56, is almost magical. With help from an ACS local section Innovative Project Grant, volunteers led by Sibel Selcuk, chair of the Indiana Section, converted the waiting room from drab and nondescript to colorful and exciting.

Selcuk’s volunteer brigade included Linda Osborn, a local section member; Osborn’s husband, Gary, an electrician; and their son, Nick, an engineer, shown above installing the nuclear chemistry panel on a wall that’s headlined “Think Like a Molecule.” Other walls tell different chemistry-based stories; for example, the green wall is about recycling and green chemistry. The waiting room is a crowd-pleaser, Rovner says, eliciting from one little boy the wondrous response, “Wow, cool, chemistry.”

Cool volunteers, too.

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



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