Issue Date: December 5, 2016
Celebrating National Chemistry Week
This year’s National Chemistry Week tapped into the public’s curiosity and stretched its imagination through the theme, “Solving Mysteries through Chemistry.”
NCW is the American Chemical Society’s largest annual outreach event, and on Oct. 16–22, volunteers from nearly all of ACS’s 185 local sections around the U.S. led hands-on activities and demonstrations at elementary schools, museums, shopping malls, and other public venues.
“Chemists are involved in solving mysteries all the time, and this really brings out the importance of chemistry in all of these activities,” says Michael McGinnis, chair of the ACS Committee on Community Activities, which organizes NCW with the help of the ACS Office of Volunteer Support.
“NCW would not be possible without the involvement of our local sections,” says ACS executive director and chief executive officer Thomas Connelly. “It’s really gratifying to see how many of our members are willing to devote their time not just on the day but for all the preparations that go into NCW. It’s an important vehicle for exposing young students to chemistry and opening their eyes to the possibility of careers in chemistry.”
“These activities celebrate the essential nature of science, and particularly chemistry, the central science,” says ACS President Donna J. Nelson. “These are opportunities for us to remind the public that every benefit which enhances our lives is based in chemistry.”
This annual celebration of chemistry originated in 1987, when ACS launched National Chemistry Day. By 1989, many local sections were doing a full week of chemistry activities, and in 1993, the event was renamed National Chemistry Week.
This year, more than 130,000 copies of the NCW publication Celebrating Chemistry were distributed, including 18,500 copies in Spanish. Consistent with the mystery theme, this year’s community event was a scavenger hunt to look for opportunities to provide services to organizations in need. In addition, students in grades K–12 were invited to participate in the NCW 2016 Illustrated Poem Contest (see box on page 48 for the winners).
McGinnis encourages chemists to continue their outreach and to do it safely. “Hopefully, NCW motivates ACS members to continue with the community-based outreach all year long,” he says. “Modeling safe laboratory practices, such as always wearing eye protection, allows hands-on outreach participants to actively understand chemistry in a safe environment.”
The following, alphabetized by local section, are highlights from this year’s celebration.
The California Section weathered the sweltering heat to host its annual Family Science Night at César Chávez Middle School. More than 100 students and their parents were treated to liquid nitrogen ice cream while enjoying music by the Scientific Jam and a colorful chemistry show by Bryan Balazs of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Special guests from a criminalistics laboratory and a police department gave presentations on forensics chemistry.
The Central Arkansas Local Section hosted hands-on activities at the Outlets of Little Rock shopping mall. Visitors analyzed fingerprints and tried their hand at chromatography, among other activities. Prizes included candy and an NCW booklet to take home. The section’s mole mascot also made an appearance.
Despite the rainy weather, the Central New York Section held an event at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, in Syracuse, for more than 200 children as part of the annual Zoo Boo event. Activities included fingerprinting, identifying juices, and experimenting with acids and bases.
In the Central Wisconsin Section, volunteers visited two second-grade classes and led activities to make marbled paper. The University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, student chapter decorated faculty offices with balloons and streamers. The chapter also organized a scavenger hunt, made liquid nitrogen ice cream, and held a chemistry cookie bake sale. The celebrations concluded with a brewery tour.
The Chemical Society of Washington held hands-on activities at the Crystal City Family Festival during the Marine Corps Marathon. Local section volunteers attended a block party at a local elementary school and performed hands-on activities for the students. Elsewhere, students from the University of Maryland held a Mole Day celebration, and Montgomery College held a Scouts Day event where more than 150 scouts earned their chemistry badge.
Hosted by the East Tennessee Section, roughly 200 people attended the 26th annual Magic of Chemistry Show by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, chemistry professor Al Hazari. The university’s mascot, Smokey, dropped in for a visit.
The Georgia Section held a community event at the Southwest Georgia Regional Library. Volunteers presented four hands-on activities, including making molecular models with marshmallows. The local section also held a Science Saturday event, which included more than 40 hands-on activities related to mysteries.
The Greater Houston Section hosted hands-on activities at the Children’s Museum of Houston for about 300 kids. Volunteers came from Rice University, the University of Houston, and the University of St. Thomas. Volunteers visited sick children at the Texas Children’s Hospital.
The Hawaii Local Section engaged the public at Kahala Mall in Honolulu. Volunteers from area colleges, universities, and government agencies set up 14 tables of hands-on activities related to the chemistry of solving mysteries.
The Idaho Local Section partnered with the Idaho State University Chemistry Club to visit local elementary schools and perform chemistry magic shows at Idaho State University. In addition, Hillcrest Elementary School, which serves a large rural community, hosted the school’s first Family Science Night in partnership with the Idaho Museum of Natural History.
The Indiana Local Section held their Chemistry Day event at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Kids wore lab coats, safety glasses, and gloves and participated in hands-on activities. Chemistry prizes were raffled off, and children received Frisbees that read, “Chemistry is Radical!” Volunteers wore T-shirts bearing a design by Larken Adams, who won the local section’s T-shirt design contest.
In the Lexington Section, students from local colleges led hands-on activities such as making slime, testing food for mystery nutrients, using magnetism to identify mystery metals in cans, and exploring mysterious memory wire. Students created posters explaining fabric forensics. The local section also held a Halloween costume contest and a chemistry pumpkin show at a local children’s museum.
The Louisiana Local Section’s Super Science Saturday event took place at the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Activities included Alka-Seltzer rockets, balloon magic, cabbage juice indicators, fingerprint analysis, paper chromatography, and surface tension.
The Michigan State University Local Section hosted Chemistry Day at Impression 5 Science Center, in Lansing. More than 500 people attended and received free admission to the museum, courtesy of a donation from Emergent BioSolutions. Students from Michigan State University and Olivet College greeted visitors with stickers and temporary tattoos. Visitors received NCW balloons as they were leaving the science center.
More than 250 volunteers representing 22 area universities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses joined the New York Local Section for its NCW celebration at the New York Hall of Science, in Queens. Activities included invisible ink, detective pen chromatography, and fruit DNA extraction. Visitors received free admission to the Hall of Science.
The Northeastern Section organized events for more than 3,000 students at the Museum of Science, Boston; the Boston Children’s Museum; and the Cape Cod & Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America. At the Boston Children’s Museum, volunteers set up a mock crime scene. Visitors were asked to help the detective solve the crime by doing the activities and learning different techniques. During the Boy Scouts event, volunteers from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation demonstrated fingerprinting techniques used by criminal investigations officers.
In the Northern New York Local Section, Clarkson University professor Dana Barry presented a workshop on solving mysteries through chemistry to fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Mary’s School in Canton. In addition, the ACS student chapter at Clarkson University hosted an outreach event on carbon fullerenes. Children were invited to take photos in a model of a buckyball.
The Orange County Section held its annual NCW celebration at the Santa Ana Zoo. The event offered free admission to visitors, many of whom came from the nearby Latino communities. Volunteers were from the local section, as well as nearby colleges and high schools.
In the Permian Basin Section, the Midland College Chemistry Club hosted hands-on activities at Midland Park Mall. Activities included fruit juice sleuthing, adding detergent and making observations regarding color change, extracting DNA from strawberries, and writing with invisible ink.
In the Philadelphia Local Section, students from Bristol High School’s ACS ChemClub made guar gum slime with approximately 200 elementary school students attending Historic Bristol Day. Elsewhere, sixth-grade girls from 32 schools participated in outreach activities at the Philadelphia Area Girls Enjoying Science conference.
The Portland Local Section organized four hands-on activities around the theme “Who stole the cookies?” Visitors identified white powder on the feet of four suspects, tested the ink in pens that the four suspects had with them, and discovered incriminating evidence on a piece of broken glass.
The Princeton Section held Chemical Mysteries Activities Night at Frick Chemistry Laboratory. Forensic chemistry professor John Allison gave presentations on ink-related mysteries. The FBI Evidence Response Team from Newark, N.J., brought an exhibit, and a Perkin-Elmer representative demonstrated a portable battery-operated gas chromatography-mass spectrometry machine. Hands-on activities included extracting DNA, identifying mystery powders, and checking for counterfeit bills.
The Puerto Rico Section hosted its annual “Festival de Química” at the “Paseo La Princesa” in Old San Juan. In addition, student chapters and ChemClubs hosted activities, which included visits to schools, mole day trivia, library exhibitions, contests, and public exhibits at various campuses.
The Santa Clara Valley Section led hands-on activities during the Bay Area Science Festival at AT&T Park. Festival-goers learned how to dust for fingerprints and write with invisible ink before shuttling mysterious, eye-catching swirls of food coloring across milky surfaces using the surfactants in dish soap.
The South Central Missouri Section hosted free events at Missouri University of Science & Technology, including hands-on activities and a chemistry demonstration show.
In the South Florida Section, university and high school students and faculty from four ACS student chapters and one high school presented chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities for about 250 children and their parents at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery & Science.
In the Susquehanna Valley Section, students distributed periodic table cookies, presented a Halloween Chemistry Demo Show for the local communities, made liquid nitrogen ice cream, and distributed guacamole and chips from a local restaurant in celebration of Mole Day.
The Toledo Local Section engaged visitors to the Washington Branch Library with activities, including identifying fake urine samples using urinalysis strips, detecting electrolytes in solutions, and revealing invisible messages.
Volunteers from the Western Michigan Local Section organized Chemistry at the Mall for more than 500 people at Woodland Mall. Kids collected clues at nine different hands-on demo booths to figure out a mystery word. Prizes included magnifying glasses, black-light flashlights, and invisible ink pens.
Planning for next year’s NCW celebration is already under way. It takes place on Oct. 22–28, and the theme, “Chemistry Rocks,” will explore the chemistry of rocks and minerals.
NCW Illustrated Poem Contest winners
The ACS Committee on Community Activities and the ACS Office of Volunteer Support have announced the winners of the 2016 National Chemistry Week Illustrated Poem Contest, in which K–12 students were invited to share their interpretation of this year’s theme, “Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry,” in the form of illustrated poems. First-place winners in each grade category received $300. Second-place winners received $150.
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