If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Thirty years of National Chemistry Week

by Michael McGinnis, Chair, ACS Committee on Community Activities
October 9, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 40

Credit: Mark Collier/Norwich University
Credit: Mark Collier/Norwich University

This fall, we will celebrate 30 years of National Chemistry Week (NCW). In 1987, when then-ACS Immediate Past President George Pimentel launched National Chemistry Day, only he appeared to imagine the lasting impact that the outreach event would have on the American Chemical Society and the greater chemistry community. During that first celebration, Pimentel led ACS members and staff in a parade down 16th Street in Washington, D.C., past the ACS headquarters building.

By 1989, more than half of ACS’s local sections had expanded their celebrations to a week, and in 1993 National Chemistry Day was officially renamed National Chemistry Week. This year’s 30th anniversary theme of “Chemistry Rocks!” calls on NCW coordinators and ACS volunteers to bring the excitement of geochemistry to children and adults across the U.S. and the world the week of Oct. 22–28.

NCW enables ACS members to participate in two of ACS’s four strategic goals: support excellence in education and communicate chemistry’s value. Last year, nearly 40,000 people attended local section outreach events, and more than 150,000 copies of the NCW publication “Celebrating Chemistry” and the Spanish-language version, “Celebrando la Química,” were distributed in the U.S.

The 30th anniversary celebration kicked off at a “Chemistry Rocks!” concert at the fall ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C. More than 300 people celebrated the contributions of current and past NCW coordinators and volunteers. Nearly all ACS local sections have identified NCW coordinators and are planning NCW activities this year.

One of my favorite activities with kids is growing crystals. The awe and excitement of watching “magic crystals” form is priceless. The publication “Celebrating Chemistry” includes two activities on making crystals: “Epsom Salt Needle Crystals” and “Borax Crystal Snowflakes.” These activities will teach and inspire the young and the young at heart. For an additional twist, head over to the online archive of NCW educational resources at and download the activity “Making Stalactites and Stalagmites from Epsom Salt.” For anyone who has visited a cave or gone spelunking, this activity is for you. With materials from home, you can set the foundations for your own stalactites and stalagmites within 30 minutes; after leaving the materials overnight, you will likely find a splendid display of magnificent crystals the next morning. Now there’s some chemistry you can see!

Did you know that all NCW themes have an associated community event? The 2017 NCW community event is taking a trip to learn about rocks and minerals. What is the neatest rock you have ever seen? What features made that rock so interesting? What did you learn about that rock?

A fabulous way to engage the public is to show people the stories behind rocks. You can partner with a natural history museum, visit a state or national park, or involve a local geologist to host a “rocks hike” in your hometown.

What can you do to share the excitement of chemistry? ACS is advancing science, advocating for chemistry, enabling career development, educating the public, supporting future chemists, and promoting diversity. The Committee on Community Activities’ NCW and Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (CCEW, previously Chemists Celebrate Earth Day) provide the tools and resources to educate the public and promote the value of chemistry through outreach.

Connect with or—better yet—volunteer to be your local section’s NCW or CCEW coordinator. Coordinators receive additional materials from the ACS Office of Volunteer Support, and they can order up to five complimentary boxes of “Celebrating Chemistry” (a total of 1,250 copies) and one complimentary box of the Spanish-language version (250 copies) from the ACS Store. “Celebrating Chemistry” has been vetted for safety concerns, and it contains articles and activities that are appropriate for fourth- through sixth-grade students. In addition to activities on growing crystals, this year’s edition of “Celebrating Chemistry” also includes activities titled “The Salt of the Earth: The Story of Sodium Chloride” and “Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place: Rocks, Minerals, and Gemstones.” In addition, Meg A. Mole interviews educator and soil scientist Elizabeth Herndon about her geochemistry explorations.

Do you know an outstanding outreach volunteer? In an effort to recognize the immeasurable outreach efforts made by local section volunteers, the Committee on Community Activities established the Local Section Outreach Volunteers of the Year recognition program. Each year, local sections can recognize one individual who has demonstrated extraordinary outreach volunteer service within the section.

ACS chemists are called to communicate chemistry’s vital role through outreach. The impact of public outreach efforts on the community can be significant. Visit, or call (800) 227-5558 for more information on NCW, CCEW, and other ACS outreach programs. You can also connect online through the ACS Network, Facebook, and Twitter. And as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of NCW this fall, engage the public with the theme “Chemistry Rocks!”

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.