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December 16, 2002
Volume 80, Number 50
CENEAR 80 50 pp. 52-57
ISSN 0009-2347

National Chemistry Week cuts through dirt to enlighten public about chemical wonders



ALL CARVED UP The Norwich Section carved elements and chemical graphics into about 120 pumpkins in an activity that bridged NCW and the Norwich Pumpkin Festival.

Toothpaste, soap, and laundry detergent--we all use them, but not everyone knows that chemistry makes them possible. That was, until this past October when the Membership Division of the American Chemical Society sponsored its annual National Chemistry Week, with this year's theme of "Chemistry Keeps Us Clean."


BUBBLE TROUBLE The Louisville Section provides a young scientist the chance to make strong bubbles from soap while at the mall. PHOTO BY CHARLOTTE TUCKER

During Oct. 20–26, ACS local sections across the U.S. organized programs to increase the public's understanding of the role of chemistry in keeping us clean. Events included interactive activities about hand washing and soap bubbles as well as demonstrations on how to purify water.

Local sections were assisted by the Membership Division, which helped get the message out by supplying more than 175,000 copies of Celebrating Chemistry newspapers and distributing more than 52,000 copies of the October issue of ChemMatters magazine featuring theme-related activities. ACS also provided free access to its journal archives to all members during October.

Local sections were also encouraged to participate in two unifying events. The first was a nationwide poster contest for students in grades K–12. The second event was a collection drive contest for student affiliate chapters titled "Chemistry Makes Cleaning Possible." The chapters collected personal hygiene products to benefit local charities such as the Ronald McDonald House in Tucson, Cherry Hill Assisted Living Center in New Jersey, and the Crescent Battered Women's Shelter in New Orleans. The winners of both the poster contest and the collection drive will be announced at the ACS spring national meeting in New Orleans.

This year, ACS joined with two outside organizations to help celebrate NCW, namely the Soap & Detergent Association (SDA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). SDA participated by donating 94,500 hand-washing coloring sheets and 100 hand-washing kits that were distributed to ACS local sections.

ACC took part by passing a resolution in June to support NCW and urging its member companies to encourage their employees to join ACS and to participate in NCW. The resolution resulted in nine new industrial sponsors for ACS local section NCW activities and a Satellite Media Tour, which was broadcast during NCW to 27 markets representing 6 million viewers.


BRIGHT-EYED A student from Moten Elementary School takes part in a hands-on experiment in Washington, D.C.

MANY SECTIONS arranged to have a proclamation issued to officially recognize Oct. 20–26 as National Chemistry Week in their cities. In the East Tennessee Section, Mayor Victor Ashe of Knoxville did the honors, while Mayors Larry W. Taylor of Martin, Tenn., and Alan Autry of Fresno, Calif., issued resolutions in the Kentucky Lake and San Joaquin Valley Sections, respectively.

ACS Communications led the media charge by coordinating an audio news release to inform the public about NCW. It was distributed to 200 radio stations in the top 25 markets. With 98% placement, the effort resulted in 16 million listeners hearing the message.

In Texas, the Greater Houston Section also received airtime, this time on TV. The section worked with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Media & Services TV to produce six TV shows, each on a different chemistry topic or demonstration. Thousands of HISD students and the public were able to see the shows.

ACS President-Elect Elsa Reichmanis helped the Columbus Section celebrate NCW by meeting with a group of students at Ohio State University and joining the section for its monthly meeting. Reichmanis also sat down with WOSU-AM for an interview in which she outlined the importance of NCW to educate the public on the contributions of chemistry to society and the role of chemistry on scientific and technical discoveries.

Some sections took advantage of the proximity of NCW to Halloween. Patients at Fairview Children's Hospital in Minneapolis got a treat on Halloween when the Minnesota Section organized a 10-minute segment that aired on Kid's Club TV, the closed-circuit TV at the hospital. A "wizard" from 3M did demonstrations live for the production, which reached hundreds of children.

The Norwich Section coordinated its NCW activities with the Norwich Pumpkin Festival, which was held at the same time. About 50 volunteers carved approximately 120 pumpkins to represent the elements of the periodic table. Procter & Gamble served as the carving site and treated the busy carvers to pumpkin-flavored liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Other sections built activities around Mole Day, which fell during NCW. ACS President Eli M. Pearce was on hand to celebrate Mole Day at Brandywine Spring Elementary School in Wilmington, Del., as part of the Delaware Section's NCW activities (C&EN, Nov. 18, page 72).

The student affiliate chapters in the Colorado Section also hosted Mole Day events. The activities ranged from a potluck Mole Day dinner to selling element-decorated cupcakes for the price of 1 cent per proton.

Mole day activities at the Middle Georgia Section consisted of treating a class of 11th-graders from Hancock Central High School to a full day of activities. Students performed experiments, such as using an optical microscope to study the magnification of a fly's eye, and enjoyed a chemical magic show. Following a short lecture on the mole, students played a "whack-a-mole" game online ( and the students with the highest and lowest points received prizes.

In collaboration with ACC, the Dallas-Fort Worth Section also developed a Web-based quiz game related to the mole called "Who Wants to be a Mole-ionaire?" The game, which has 450 different questions, allows the contestants to answer questions and accumulate micromoles. To play, visit the section's website at, scroll down to "Chemistry Links," and click on the Mole-ionaire icon.

The World Wide Web also play host to an online scavenger hunt sponsored by the Milwaukee Section. The participants included students from 22 different high schools. Each two-student team was given 10 questions relating to this year's NCW theme and six days to answer them. Prizes were awarded to the top finishers.

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PATCH WORK Boy and Girl Scouts attend a day of activities sponsored by the Michigan State University Section, including a demonstration on cartesian divers by MSU student Ginger Russell. Each scout earned a specially designed chemistry patch. PHOTO BY TOM ATKINSON

BUT USING GAMES to celebrate NCW was not limited to the Internet. The LaCrosse-Winona Section in cooperation with the chemistry department at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota invited area high school students and their teachers to participate in a mock scenario of an oil spill on the Mississippi River near Winona. The students were challenged to determine the major components of the spill, what companies upstream might have been responsible for the spill, and the most effective cleanup method. With the help of university chemistry students, the high school students were able to work on a variety of chemical instruments and perform some wet chemistry in an attempt to answer the questions.

The Mid-Hudson Section sponsored a real whodunit at its Chemistry Family Night held at State University of New York Orange County Community College. The crime was the theft of some detergent, and the children in the audience were called on to help catch the culprit. After learning that the detergent that had been stolen contained a compound that is known to be fluorescent, the kids used a UV light to track down and nab the perpetrator.

The San Gorgonio Section celebrated NCW with its 10th annual Chemistry Fair held at the San Bernardino County Museum, in California. Fairgoers learned about chemistry topics through hands-on activities, puzzles, and demonstrations at 12 different tables. Topics included density, temperature, polymers, and chemical careers.

The North Carolina Section hosted a booth in the "BioFrontiers Tent" at the North Carolina Fair as part of its NCW activities. Volunteers performed simple demonstrations and provided numerous hands-on activities for the crowd, such as making chromatography butterflies.


SOAPY Michigan State University student Bhooma Aravamuthan floats bubbles on top of a layer of carbon dioxide gas. PHOTO BY TOM ATKINSON

CITING THE WORDS of rap band Outkast, "Ain't nobody dope as me, I'm just so fresh, so clean," the Tuskegee University Student Affiliate Chapter of the Auburn Section observed NCW by showing its community how to be so fresh and so clean with chemistry. They helped increase the community's awareness of the role chemistry plays in the products used in daily life such as toothpaste, shampoo, and dish detergent.

From rappers to cartoon characters, NCW had something for everyone. The kids who attended the South Plains Section's courtyard performance at Texas Tech University were fortunate to be visited by the famous cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, who presented "SpongeBob Comes Clean!" A variety of interactive demos dealing with cleaning, cleanliness, and cleaning products entertained the crowd.

Chemistry not only keeps us clean, but it can also be used to keep the environment clean. The Brazosport Section illustrated this by coorganizing "Chemistry Keeps Us Clean Beach Cleanup" with Dow Chemical. Volunteers spent four hours cleaning the shores of Quintana Beach and discussing chemistry.

The South Florida Section also focused on the environment for one of its NCW activities. "Family Day Outing" was held at the Flamingo Gardens/Everglades Wildlife Refuge in Davie, Fla. The section provided lunch for those in attendance. Talks and demonstrations about how chemistry keeps our environment and us clean were included.

The Los Angeles River was the focus of another environment-related activity. The Southern California Section organized an environmental talk and walk along the 51-mile-long river, which has been the subject of many environmental quality issues in the past few years.

The Peoria Section set up a chemistry display at the Peoria Park District Riverplex Recreation & Wellness Center. Volunteers discussed issues related to sewage treatment and did some experiments with children, including using soap to help water and oil mix.


FUTURE CHEMIST Preston Arnold makes a bubble-bath gel at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland in an event sponsored by the Northeastern Ohio Section. PHOTO BY CAROLYN SHANKLIN

SOAP WASN'T NEEDED to get scouts and chemistry to mix. The Coastal Empire, Nebraska, and Northern West Virginia Sections all hosted events involving Boy and Girl Scouts as part of their NCW activities.

NCW also provided an opportunity for scouts to earn merit badges related to chemistry. The Michigan State University Section sponsored a merit badge for Boy Scouts, and the South Carolina Section helped area Girl Scouts complete their science badge. The Louisiana Section held a workshop for both Boy and Girl Scouts to earn chemistry merit badges.

The Illinois-Iowa Section also showed Brownies and Cub Scouts from Kewanee, Ill., how to make soap from corn oil and then test its properties with help from students from Black Hawk College. The children also viewed life from inside a bubble.

The Washington-Idaho Border Section sponsored "A Mole of Soap" contest for a local Boy Scout troop. The troop listened to some Native American mole stories and a description of the chemistry mole before the main event: carving mole sculptures from Ivory Soap. Each scout received an NCW participation patch and an ACS mole stuffed toy for his efforts.

But children didn't have to be in scouts to participate in NCW. Sections including Binghamton, South Texas, Carolina-Piedmont, Maryland, Northeast Tennessee, and Ocean County all brought hands-on activities and demonstrations to their area elementary through high schools.

"Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Chemistry in the Tub!: A Hands-on Program" was the title of an hourlong program developed and presented by the Cleveland Section. The highly interactive event allowed students to experiment with water tension and hardness and their effects on cleaning. They also learned about some of the chemicals used to fight stains in laundry. An estimated 900 students and 250 adults were reached by the 62 presentations of the program.

The Dayton Section set up eight experimental stations at the John XXIII Elementary School, Middletown, Ohio. Students rotated through the stations, which included cleaning pennies with various acids. The first- through third-graders learned about water by jumping around in the grass like popcorn and attaching to each other to simulate water's "skin."


BOUNTIFUL Students from the University of Michigan, Flint, Chemistry Club pose with all of the personal hygiene products they collected for the ACS drive.

MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS became chemists for a day when Nashville Section volunteers spent the day with them. The volunteers showed the students how to teach the "Chemistry of Clean." The students then took what they learned and taught other students.


HAUNTING The Columbus Section shows children that chemistry and Halloween do mix. PHOTO BY MARIA ROSENTHAL

Mercer County Community College and Rider University Student Affiliates of the Trenton Section wowed and mesmerized 600 elementary school students with hand-washing and disappearing water demonstrations. The grand finale was the making of green slime.

Capitalizing on the wonders of chemistry, several sections included a magic show in their NCW activities. East Tennessee, Joliet, and Northwest Louisiana Sections mystified young and old alike with their shows.

Some sections invited children to area chemistry departments to participate in chemistry programs. The Alabama Section organized a gathering of 150 people, which included ACS members from local colleges and universities, teachers, and students, for an afternoon of chemistry fun. The audience was treated to entertaining and instructional chemical demonstrations by University of Alabama, Birmingham, chemistry professors.

The Savannah River Section treated 1,500 Augusta, Ga.-area sixth-graders to a chemical show at Augusta State University. The show, "Wow! That's Chemistry?" featured professors and students demonstrating chemistry-related experiments including fireballs, explosions, and color changes.

The Northeastern Indiana, Puerto Rico, and Southern Nevada Sections also held demonstrations and activities including colorful chemical reactions and hand-washing tips for area schools and college students.

The Huron Valley Section got NCW rolling a bit early with "Saturday in the Laboratory," which was held in the middle of October to coincide with Eastern Michigan University's Family Day. The event targeted third- through fifth-graders in the Ypsilanti, Mich., area. More than 1,000 visitors wandered around the 19 demonstrations set up in the chemistry building, which included making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, faking fossils, and drawing with color-changing markers.


DROPWISE A volunteer from the Chicago Section helps a young chemist with an experiment. PHOTO BY RUSS JOHNSON

The California Section joined forces with the Will C. Wood Middle School, in Alameda, Calif., to organize Family Science Night. More than 500 students and their families attended the show and participated in the 14 hands-on activities that included testing the surface tension of water by floating coins on various soap and salt solutions and removing odors and colors from water using sand and activated charcoal.

Some sections took advantage of NCW to showcase their area college and university chemistry departments. Chicago, Princeton, and Texas A&M Sections all included department open houses in their activities. Visitors were engaged in hands-on experiments and demonstrations involving bubbles and inflated marshmallows, to name just two.

The East Central Illinois Section and the Illinois State Water Survey hosted a University of Illinois Discovery Program Chemistry Class with the theme, "Water, the Elixir of Life." The topics covered in this freshman class included hydrologic cycle, water availability, water purification, and the physical properties of water and ice.

The student affiliates at Arkansas State University literally took NCW outside of their chemistry department. They lit up the night with a 6-foot-tall beaker filled with more than 900 balloons that was set to look like it was spilling soap bubbles over the side of the chemistry building. The students used Christmas lights to outline the scene and to spell out "Chemistry Keeps Us Clean" and "NCW" in 4-foot-tall letters.


CARTOON TIME Dominick Casadonte dresses up as SpongeBob SquarePants for the South Plains Section's presentation of "SpongeBob Comes Clean!" PHOTO BY MARY DONAHUE

NOT EVEN RAIN could dampen NCW activities or chemistry expo events. The San Diego Section held its 15th annual Chem Expo--a celebration of NCW--under mostly rainy skies. Students from 55 schools were entertained by demonstrations and hands-on activities tables.

The Southwest Louisiana Section worked with the Lake Area Industry Alliance and McNeese State University to organize the third annual LAIA Chem Expo. The fun-filled day of hands-on activities helped area sixth-graders learn about chemistry topics such as surface tension, pH levels, and polymers.

For the 10th year, the North Jersey Section held its Chemistry Expo at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J. Demonstrations and hands-on activities entertained visitors who learned how to correctly wash their hands, why soap works, and how to use ketchup to clean the oxidation off pennies.

Museums were also a popular venue for NCW activities. The Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Portland, and St. Louis Sections all organized events at area science centers and museums that included demonstrations and hands-on activities about soaps and water.

In conjunction with the Boston Museum of Science, the Northeastern Section organized "Chemistry and Ancient Egypt." Held at the museum, the event provided hands-on activities such as simulating ancient Egyptian toothpaste and comparing it with modern toothpastes, and demonstrations depicting personal hygiene and cosmetics in ancient Egypt. The chemistry of mummification and a demonstration with the mummification of an apple were also included.

The Northeastern Ohio Section celebrated NCW at the Great Lakes Science Center. Seven hands-on experiments and four demonstrations entertained both children and adults. Children were able to make their own scented bubble bath samples to take home, while another experiment allowed visitors to purify muddy water from nearby Lake Erie.

The Cincinnati Museum Center was the site of the Cincinnati Section's NCW kick-off event. With help from Procter & Gamble, the afternoon included an NCW ribbon-cutting ceremony and chemical demonstrations. More than 500 future chemists were treated to free balloons, coloring pages, and temporary tattoos.

"The Chemistry of Clean" program was presented by the Detroit Section at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. The three-hour event provided 13 hands-on experiments, including making soap on a rope, propelling a toy boat, and cleaning water with dirt.


HAIRY Teacher Iva Haynes has a hair-raising time with her class at the Northeast Tennessee Section's event, "Celebration." PHOTO BY STEVE FALLING

THE INDIANA SECTION held a hands-on chemistry day at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. More than 3,000 people took part in the activities and demonstrations that allowed them to test the difference in surface tension between soapy water and nonsoapy water as well as experiment with different ways to make bubbles.

The Kalamazoo Section sponsored Museum Chemistry Day at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The four-hour event provided approximately 1,200 children with 18 hands-on demos such as diaper absorbency, hand washing, and soap making.

The Syracuse Section held its annual Chemistry Day at the Museum of Science & Technology in Syracuse, N.Y. Local children were inspired with demonstrations and hands-on activities dealing with toothpaste and soap. A jack-o-lantern left the children in stitches by spewing foam as its teeth were brushed.

Chemistry clubs from local colleges and universities joined forces with the Rochester Section to host three days of experiments at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. A Van de Graaf generator was on hand to help demonstrators teach visitors about how Kodak and other companies use static electricity to clean machine parts at the molecular level.

The Baton Rouge Section organized a hands-on science event called Super Science Saturday. Cosponsored with the chemistry department of Louisiana State University, 10 groups from industry and academia provided activities for more than 500 children at the LSU Field House.

To illustrate the breadth of chemistry in cleaning products, the Midland Section organized "Sci-Fest 2002: Chemistry Keeps Us Clean from A to Z." The section came up with several cleaning products for each letter of the alphabet and the name of a company that work-ed with the items. For example, for A, the item was antimicrobials and the groups asked to put on an exhibit were Aquilon and the Tri-Cities Microbiology Club. Although companies associated with each cleaning product were invited, not all attended.


FOAMING Adam Redding from SUNY, New Paltz, demonstrates some wild soap reactions using a pumpkin as part of the Mid-Hudson Section's programs. PHOTO BY MICHELLE RODDEN

Some sections took the NCW message to unique locations. The Central Wisconsin Section did hands-on cleaning activities at area schools as well as at the Portage County Jail for Juveniles, which included a presentation of "Chemistry in a Bag" for 12- to 15-year-olds currently being held there. NCW volunteers also did demonstrations at the River Pines Nursing Home.

Holiday excitement may be filling the air at the malls these days, but during NCW, malls around the country were aflutter with chemistry. The Erie, Indiana-Kentucky Border, Kansas City, Louisville, and Toledo Sections set up activities and displays to entertain shoppers of all ages.

The Western Michigan Section held a mall event complete with hands-on activities at the Westshore Mall in Holland. The activities included growing crystals, discovering conductivities of cleaning solutions, and using red cabbage as an indicator to measure the pH of cleaning solutions.

The University of Arkansas Section also organized nine hands-on experiments at its local mall ranging from chromatography to sublimation. The Upper Ohio Valley Section provided mall activities that involved purifying water and showing how soaps and detergents are used.

While the events of the 2002 NCW were a smashing success, section volunteers spent many hours of hard work planning them. Local companies also contributed time, money, and other resources to make local section activities successful. The focus now falls to next year's NCW with the theme "Celebrating Chemistry: Earth's Atmosphere & Beyond!"

CONSERVATION The Brazosport Section sponsors a cleanup of Quintana Beach, in Texas.


Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

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