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ACS News

December 11, 2006
Volume 84, Number 50
p. 40-44

Chemistry Creates Comforts of Home

During National Chemistry Week 2006, ACS volunteers demonstrated 'Your Home—It's All Built on Chemistry'

Rachel A. Petkewich

Could there be a better time for chemists to celebrate than National Chemistry Week (NCW)? The Minnesota Section of the American Chemical Society went all-out for its centennial anniversary with a daylong expo on the last day of the week of festivities.

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The bash was held at Concordia University in St. Paul, where more than 500 chemists, community members, and kids of all ages oohed and aahed at the expo's chemistry demonstrations and toured history exhibits, too. Activities like these have become staples of NCW, ACS's annual extravaganza.

NCW is celebrated in many ways. This year, as in the past, nearly 10,000 volunteers assembled at schools, malls, museums, and even zoos across the country to demonstrate the positive effects that chemistry has on everyday life. NCW officially was held on Oct. 22-28 this year, and the theme was "Your Home—It's All Built on Chemistry."

People seem to forget how much chemistry is in their homes, says V. Michael Mautino, a marketing representative at Bayer MaterialScience and chair of the ACS Committee on Community Activities (CCA), which oversees NCW. Think about water purification, for example. People may know that home water-filters are charcoal-activated, he says, but they forget that it's chemistry in action, if they ever knew.

At the big 100th birthday bash in Minnesota, the history of chemistry was the theme, as students from a dozen college chemistry clubs crafted posters summarizing decades of chemical developments. For example, students from Rochester Community & Technical College dressed in period costume for the 1920-29 poster titled "Flappers, Gangsters, and Chemicals: Oh My!" which listed 1920s Nobel Laureates and gave information about Louis de Broglie and Werner Heisenberg, among others.

Marilyn D. Duerst
Grand Expo During the Minnesota Section's centennial celebration, student affiliates from the University of Minnesota, Morris, displayed chemical highlights of the 1930s.

Sporting a dapper handlebar moustache, a student from the University of Minnesota, Morris, told attendees about developments during the 1930s, which included the invention of nylon. The University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, displayed the "The Swinging Sixties: Fast Reactions and Carbon Dating" along with psychedelic themes, groovy scarves, rock and roll, and the molecular structures of psychoactive substances such as LSD and tetrahydrocannabinol.

William F. Carroll, now ACS immediate past-president, completed his spirited "Extreme Farewell Tour" in St. Paul by presenting a "Salutes to Excellence" plaque to section chair Joann Pfeiffer of Century College. As he did last year, Carroll detailed his experiences of NCW in a blog, available at This year, Carroll, a self-described WHATNOT, blogged from 10 cities in eight days, escorted by HOTTIEs and TOTs. (Read the blog.)

ACS volunteers encourage wide participation in NCW. To help engage students, ACS holds two national contests in association with NCW. Students in kindergarten through grade 12 are asked to "create a poster that would serve as a public service announcement emphasizing the role of science and chemistry in the home and/or in home improvements over the years." Local sections may submit entries until Jan. 31, 2007.

Undergraduate students in active student affiliate chapters participated in NCW's Chemvention, a problem-solving contest. This year's challenge is to develop a new green building material or improve an existing one for a home. Participants are required to submit an electronic report by Dec. 15. The grand prize winner will be announced during the Student Affiliates Awards Ceremony at the upcoming spring national meeting in Chicago and will receive a check for $2,500.

NCW's success stems from active support throughout ACS and the broader chemical community. Local sections distributed more than 150,000 copies of Celebrating Chemistry, the annual NCW publication, and 60,000 copies of ChemMatters, a quarterly publication aimed at high school students. The Journal of Chemical Education put out a special issue. In addition, ACS Publications allowed ACS members free access to 100 highly ranked journal articles.

The Home Safety Council and the National Association of Home Builders partnered with ACS to share educational materials that were widely used. Local sections teamed up with other national organizations including the Association for Women in Science and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers for a variety of activities. The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade organization, encouraged its member companies to participate in activities. Donations from numerous companies also helped to support activities in local sections.

The ACS Office of Community Activities asks local sections to summarize their NCW activities. This year, many sections promoted safety in the home with consumer information and fire extinguisher demonstrations. As usual, classic general chemistry demonstrations, such as slime and gak, had a popular presence. Following are some highlights.

Courtesy of the Puerto Rico Section (both)
Stage show The Puerto Rico Section's celebration included a safety-themed play put on by students from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras (top), and numerous demonstrations at Paseo la Princessa, in San Juan, by student affiliates from the Inter American University, San German (bottom).

In Puerto Rico, NCW commenced with an event coordinated by 10 student affiliate chapters. More than 1,000 children participated in "Festival de Química." Each chapter addressed a place in the home (living room, family room, kids' room, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, garage, and backyard) as well as related topics such as recycling, construction, and energy. Volunteers did demonstrations and even put on a safety-themed play. Over the course of the week, student affiliate chapters reached an estimated 5,000 more students at libraries and local schools.

In New England, the Northeast Section had approximately 450 visitors who participated in a dozen hands-on, theme-related activities at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. The guests had fun studying soil erosion, learning about the properties of various nails, and studying the effectiveness of windows in blocking ultraviolet light. At Boston Children's Museum on Oct. 28, about 100 volunteers facilitated activities, such as kitchen chemistry and building miniskyscrapers, for 2,500 visitors.

Local sections in New York organized a wide range of events. Approximately 170 volunteers from corporations, universities, high schools, and professional organizations in the New York Section returned for the second year to the New York Hall of Science in Queens on Oct. 28 and coordinated 25 hands-on activities. About 900 people colored and flavored their own soda, made glue, and learned what makes paint stick to the walls, among other activities.

At the New York State Museum, in Albany, volunteers from the Eastern New York Section showed children how to test the pH of various household chemicals, make ice cream, and generate solar energy in a house. The local section also obtained a grant for a weeklong after-school program aimed to encourage minority and economically disadvantaged children toward science and technology careers.

The Corning Section celebrated NCW over two days in collaboration with the Corning Glass Museum. Industry scientists prepared a dozen demonstrations for 500 students on Oct. 20 and an equal number for local community members on Oct. 21.

Academic members of the Northern New York Section visited elementary and high schools near their campuses. Demonstrations included explanations of chemicals used to build homes, from aluminum in doors to iron in nails. "Exploding foams" represented home insulation, "heats of solution for salts" demonstrated why salt is added to icy New York sidewalks, and "human batteries" illustrated basic concepts of electricity.

Students from high schools and colleges in Pennsylvania's Erie Section brought chemistry to a shopping mall on Oct. 21. CCA Chair Mautino organized the Pittsburgh Section's eighth annual two-day event at the Carnegie Science Center. More than 3,600 people attended. Activities focused on the chemistry of cement used in construction projects and on "chemistry in a bag," the ever popular demonstration of an acid-base reaction with both exothermic and gas-generating components.

Courtesy of the Princeton Section
Decoration ACS Silver Circle volunteer Bill Barnard (left) supervises fresco painting, a popular way to explore the properties of plaster, at the Princeton Section's event at Princeton University, in New Jersey.

Two hundred community members attended an event hosted by the Princeton Section, and 30 volunteers, including students and retirees, helped with hands-on activities that included making paint and polymer composites, testing structural materials, and using household chemicals and materials to draw Halloween cats that turned from orange to black.

The Maryland Section organized two weeks of events. Volunteers from government, academic, and industrial labs visited eight libraries and 15 schools in five counties and Baltimore city. In total, about 2,500 students in kindergarten through seventh grade discussed how chemistry affects their daily lives and did hands-on activities including heat transfer and testing the strength of dry spaghetti, a carbohydrate polymer.

Members of the Chemical Society of Washington, D.C., as well as some ACS and American Chemistry Council staff, visited a D.C. elementary school on Oct. 25. Students learned about building materials by making their own salt dough and painting frescoes in plaster.

More than 500 children participated in the Virginia Section's three-day event at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. Volunteers from academia and industry helped students learn about polymers, make superballs, understand the importance of insulation in a house, and build a birdhouse.

The South Carolina Section teamed up with the South Carolina Association of Chemistry Teachers and the Low Country Hall of Science & Math in Charleston to implement a statewide initiative for chemistry awareness. College students made presentations at two shopping malls and the EdVenture Children's Museum in Columbia, S.C. Among the activities, the students tested the conductivity of different household chemicals.

Three sections in Georgia were active participants. The Georgia Section hosted a night of hands-on chemistry events for elementary school children at Fernbank Science Center, in Atlanta, with support from chemistry clubs at local universities. At the event, students tested household products with acid and base indicators and explored chromatography.

The Middle Georgia Section kicked off NCW with a barbeque. The celebrations drew 200 volunteers and 3,000 participants. Student affiliates at Georgia College & State University hosted the second annual Family Fun Night with indoor and outdoor science activities such as a star lab, Halloween maze, and tours of the Museum of Natural History in Athens, Ga. Volunteers also presented chemistry demonstrations at shopping malls, the Georgia War Veterans' Home, universities, and elementary schools.

Starr Jordan
Clean home Citadel cadets help children test conductivity of different household chemicals at the Low Country Hall of Science & Math in Charleston, S.C.

The Savannah River Section teamed up with Fort Discovery, a science museum in Augusta, for two weeks of chemistry celebrations. Demonstrations included how thermostats operate, how wood is pressure-treated to be rot resistant, and how lead content is measured in paint.

In Florida, the Orlando Section held an "Imaginary Molecules" contest. The Florida Solar Energy Center, in Cocoa, displayed the "molecular" entries. A panel of five judges critiqued creativity, bonding, and IUPAC naming. "Mothalene" and "1-chlorocranyl-4-dracoxylegged-2-wingide-dragyne," both from Palm Bay High School, took first and second places, respectively, and "camelane" from Viera High School placed third.

The South Florida Section held demonstrations for about 400 high school students; student affiliates at Barry University, Miami, did demonstrations for younger kids in an after-school tutoring program; and middle school and high school teachers attended workshops. Symposia for the public addressed the chemistry of cement and how cellulose is used in homes. Hands-on demonstrations at a shopping mall were presented by science clubs and students and faculty from middle and high schools and local universities.

Student affiliates at Tuskegee University in the Auburn Section did two weeks of demonstrations at malls and elementary schools, including how to make plastic from milk and discussions of the chemical properties of insulators and conductors found in the home.

In the Baton Rouge Section, the main NCW event, Super Science Saturday, was set for Dec. 2 because of scheduling issues in Louisiana State University's field house.

Student affiliates from Arkansas State University embraced this year's NCW theme by building a cross section of a home, labeling the materials, and describing their chemical composition. Originally "housed" in the university's science building, the display traveled to a local high school as well as a hardware store.

Courtesy of the South Florida Section
Mall Science Student affiliates from the South Florida Section attracted children and their parents to chemistry with the "genie in a bottle" demonstration at a shopping mall in North Miami.

The Texas A&M Section set up its 19th annual Chemistry Open House & Science Exploration Gallery in the university's new chemistry wing. More than 1,000 students, parents, and teachers saw a presentation of the popular Chemistry Road Show and participated in mini experiments. Attendees also saw a glassblowing demonstration and took facility tours.

Four Tennessee sections reported on their NCW activities. The Northeast Tennessee Section, which also has members in southwestern Virginia, held its 16th annual "Chemistry for Fourth Graders" demonstrations at Eastman Chemical's Toy F. Reid Employee Center in Kingsport. Nearly 1,400 students from 27 local elementary schools participated. Demonstrations included a Van de Graaff generator, oscillating reactions, dry ice and liquid nitrogen, and pH indicators.

Dressed as a construction worker and stressing safety, Al Hazari of the East Tennessee Section performed his annual chemistry magic show for 400 people-from elementary school students to nursing home residents. Oak Ridge's American Museum of Science & Energy and local colleges and universities also hosted hands-on demonstrations. The Nashville Section held an event on Mole Day (Oct. 23) for 2,500 high school students. Students calculated how many moles of candy fit into a bottle and learned about energy conservation from local utilities. Girl Scouts in the Memphis Section earned NCW patches. In addition, volunteers from the section did NCW-related demonstrations and activities at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

In Kentucky, the Louisville Section sponsored two days of events at the city's science center. Several of the demonstrations showed how iron-containing cereal is attracted to a magnet, how soap expands in the microwave, and how cans of diet soda float in water.

Steve Falling
Demonstration Students enjoy an oscillating reaction demonstration at the Northeast Tennessee Section's event for fourth-grade students in Kingsport, Tenn.

Activities were wide-ranging at three sections in the Ohio area. In Columbus, section volunteers, with help from a mobile exhibit from a local science museum, facilitated hands-on activities at the city's library. Kids explored phases of matter and reactions among items found in kitchens, such as flour, salt, and sugar. University students also conducted activities for approximately 70 third-grade students.

The Dayton Section held demonstrations at a local library. And the Upper Ohio Valley Section created a special exhibit for home-related chemistry on Nov. 4 at a mall in Vienna, W.Va., with help from local student affiliates and faculty at several schools.

In Illinois, Carus Chemical employees helped with the Joliet Section's festivities. Carus employees spoke about chemical safety and presented "classroom chemistry" to more than 700 junior high school students and teachers. On Oct. 23, ACS immediate past-president and extreme tourist Carroll visited the demonstration held at a school in Oglesby, Ill. He participated in an experiment involving a balloon, some petroleum jelly, and a skewer.

At the Children's Museum in Indianapolis, the Indiana Section drew more than 3,700 visitors. Volunteers from industry championed recycling and sponsored chemistry shows, and local universities helped with hands-on activities, including making chalk from eggshells and drawing with invisible ink. The local fire department discussed fire safety in the home.

The Oklahoma Section's largest event was held at a shopping mall, where student affiliate chapters offered a series of activities for passersby that included polymers, quick-setting concrete, and acid-base reactions.

The Western Michigan Section also held its event at a local mall with assistance from universities and industry volunteers. Many of the demonstrations focused on classic kitchen chemistry, such as making ice cream and carbonating beverages. "Ketchup races" demonstrated varying viscosities among popular condiment brands.

Three additional Michigan sections were active. The Michigan State University Section held its 20th annual event at the Impression 5 Science Center, in Lansing. Among the 2,000 people who attended, 172 Girl Scouts and 565 Boy Scouts earned the participation patch. Forty activity tables, most of which were consistent with the NCW theme, were staffed by volunteers from MSU and two high schools. Activities involved fruit batteries, paint pigments, making nylon rope, testing water hardness, and the chemistry of drain cleaners and stain removers.

The Kalamazoo Section in Michigan held its 20th annual event at a museum, as well. Students hosted an alternative fuel expo outside the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Inside, volunteers helped participants examine the gases we exhale and explore paper chromatography. Astronaut Richard J. Hieb attended the event.

Nearly 400 people attended the Cranbrook Institute of Science on Oct. 22 for the Detroit Section's event. More than 40 chemists and student affiliates from local universities conducted stage demonstrations and hands-on activities, such as investigating how hardness of water affects soap bubbles.

Capitalizing on NCW's promixity to Halloween, college students in the Wisconsin Section created a haunted house with a chemistry twist. During the week, 36 volunteers performed demonstrations including plastics analysis for more than 300 students and five teachers in 12 seventh-grade classrooms at two local middle schools.

High school students participated in problem-solving exercises at the La Crosse-Winona Section-sponsored "Chemistry Nights." Students and teachers analyzed spectra of dyes and tested paint for lead with instrumentation at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.

Parents and roughly 175 children walked away from the Salt Lake City Main Library in Utah with an appreciation of chemistry in household products on Oct. 21. Thirty college students hosted activities such as mixing paint and identifying an unknown kitchen powder with indicator tests.

On Oct. 24 and 26, 100 fifth-graders and their teachers converged on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus as academic, industrial, and Environmental Protection Agency volunteers from the Southern Nevada Section demonstrated the formulation and preparation of house paint and how different chemicals have varying degrees of flame-retarding properties.

Five sections in California reported their NCW activities. On Oct. 26, the California Section held Family Night at a middle school in Berkeley. More than 300 visitors were welcomed by the Scientific Jam Band. Volunteers from government and academic labs gave demonstrations related to thermal insulation, pH changes, plant scents, and genetics.

To celebrate NCW, the Orange County Section headed to the zoo. Attendance at the Santa Ana Zoo tripled to nearly 1,200 people for this year's event compared with last year's. Hands-on activities were organized by 179 students from 10 colleges in Southern California. "Rudy's Radical Science Show," presented by Rudy Gonzales, was also a big hit.

The San Diego Section held its annual ChemExpo in Balboa Park. More than 1,100 middle and high school students and their parents attended. A number of Girl Scouts participated as well. Twenty-five volunteers from the section and students from six colleges staged shows and general chemistry experiments featuring oscillating reactions, red cabbage indicators, and elephant's toothpaste, a foaming decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.

During NCW, volunteers from the Southern California Section held demonstrations at an annual event at the California Science Center, in Los Angeles. Events held prior to NCW at KidZone Youth Museum, in Hemet, included the Home Safety Fair, which focused on earthquake safety.

The Puget Sound Section in Washington state had two main activities. College students conducted NCW events at a public library. Activities aimed at kindergarten through eighth-grade students included making ink, understanding the acid-base properties of household chemicals, and understanding the sun protection factors in sunscreens. Another group of students visited kindergarten classrooms to do demonstrations.

Although this year's celebration has just concluded, ACS staff members along with CCA have begun planning next year's NCW, which will be held Oct. 21-27. "The Many Faces of Chemistry," which will emphasize diversity among chemists and chemical careers, is the theme for 2007, which will be NCW's 20th anniversary.

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