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Cover Story

December 13, 2010
Volume 88, Number 50
pp. 12-15

Chemistry In The Spotlight

National Chemistry Week demystifies the role of chemistry in movies and on television

Linda Wang

MODEL GROUP: Volunteers from the Nashville Section constructed a giant buckyball in honor of the 25th anniversary of the discovery of C60 fullerenes. Dean Carothers
MODEL GROUP Volunteers from the Nashville Section constructed a giant buckyball in honor of the 25th anniversary of the discovery of C60 fullerenes.
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Chemistry got star treatment during this year’s National Chemistry Week (NCW) celebration, which took place on Oct. 17–23. The theme, “Behind the Scenes with Chemistry,” highlighted chemistry’s role in the entertainment industry, such as in producing the special effects seen in movies and on television. Many American Chemical Society local sections got creative in trying to incorporate the theme into their hands-on activities and demonstrations. Some also celebrated Mole Day on Oct. 23 to commemorate Avogadro’s number.

“People have such a negative image of chemistry,” says Lynn M. Hogue, chair of the ACS Committee on Community Activities (CCA). “This was our opportunity to showcase chemistry and the good that it does. I commend everybody who took part in NCW, and I thank them for all their hard work,” she adds. “I hope people enjoyed themselves immensely and left with a more positive view of chemistry and of science.”

The weeklong celebration drew more than 10,000 volunteers from ACS’s 189 local sections. They partnered with businesses, schools, and individuals throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to lead chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities at public venues such as museums, shopping malls, and libraries.

“One of the cool things was just seeing all the outreach efforts to educate the general public about the magic of chemistry,” ACS President Joseph S. Francisco says. “It’s exciting, and it brings our community together.”

NCW began in 1987 as National Chemistry Day and became National Chemistry Week in 1993. The event is coordinated by CCA with assistance from the ACS Department of Volunteer Support. In support of NCW, the department distributed more than 200,000 copies of Celebrating Chemistry,the hands-on activity publication produced for elementary school children. In addition, ChemMattersmagazine and the Journal of Chemical Education devoted their October 2010 issues to the NCW theme, and the ACS Office of Public Affairs produced four NCW-related podcasts in English and Spanish. The society also held a national poster contest for grades K–12, and the ACS Island on the virtual world website Second Life hosted NCW exhibits and virtual demonstrations.

Following are highlights of NCW celebrations around the country:

On Nov. 2, volunteers from the Maine Section teamed up with volunteers from the University of Maine, Orono, to host Chem Fest 2010. The evening concluded with a talk titled “Chemistry in Comics” by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, chemistry professor Al Hazari.

In Delaware, more than 450 children and their parents participated in Science Adventure, hosted by the Delaware Section at the Independence School, in Newark. Children were treated to hands-on activities, games, and a chemistry show.

A flurry of chemistry outreach also took place in Boston. On Oct. 21, the Northeastern Section partnered with the Museum of Science to host the High School Science Series. More than 500 area high school students attended the event, which featured a pyrotechnic demonstration on the chemistry of fireworks. Visitors to the Boston Children’s Museum were also treated to hands-on activities, such as making slime and artificial snow.

In New York, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Saint Mary’s School, in Canton, participated in a hands-on workshop as part of the Northern New York Section’s NCW celebration.

The Syracuse Section’s Mole Day event at East Syracuse-Minoa Central High School drew more than 200 elementary school students and their parents, who rotated through hands-on activities, many of them centered on the Harry Potter movies.

Elsewhere in New York, the Mid-Hudson Section hosted Family Night at four locations in the Hudson Valley. Activities included making fluorescent spinach, salt volcanoes, and pop rockets. Visitors were also treated to liquid nitrogen ice cream.

In neighboring New Jersey, the Prince­ton Section sponsored NCW Activities Night for more than 400 visitors. Kathryn Wagner of Princeton University demonstrated the chemistry behind special effects, such as color-changing liquids, breakaway glass, and different ways to make fog and smoke. Volunteers from the local section, Princeton University, and Princeton High School dressed up in costumes and provided visitors with chemistry clues to solve a hypothetical crime.

The Ocean County Section had an equally successful celebration. Students and faculty from Ocean County College and Georgian Court University set up activity stations at the Ocean County Public Library, in Toms River, N.J.

In Pennsylvania, the Erie Section hosted an outreach program for children visiting Millcreek Mall. Students and faculty from local universities and high schools joined the section in presenting a chemistry show and hands-on activities to more than 250 children.

Members from the Pittsburgh Section turned out in force to host the section’s 12th NCW event at the Carnegie Science Center. More than 4,300 people attended the two-day event, in which 335 volunteers from 31 groups and organizations participated. Underrepresented minorities received grants to cover admission to the museum.

In Maryland, volunteers from the Maryland Section and Morgan State University held a contest where students were asked to list movie titles—such as “Goldfinger”—that include the name of an element.

In nearby Washington, D.C., ACS staff and volunteers from the Chemical Society of Washington, George Mason University, and other local groups engaged more than 300 students from Ballou Senior High School in a day of hands-on chemistry activities.

On Oct. 24, the Central North Carolina Section hosted its third annual Chemistry Day celebration at the Girl Scout Learning Center, in Colfax. In addition to numerous hands-on activities, Timothy Smith of Vertellus Specialties presented a lecture on careers in cosmetic chemistry.

A gorgeous fall day may have resulted in low turnout at the Health Adventure, a children’s museum in Asheville, N.C., but that couldn’t dampen the spirit of volunteers from the Western Carolinas Section, who hosted an afternoon of hands-on activities there.

Farther south, the Georgia Section coordinated visits by Georgia Institute of Technology students to local middle schools and sent out NCW care packages containing educational materials to students in grades K–12. Other highlights included activities for fourth- and fifth-grade girls at Southern Polytechnic State University, in Marietta; NCW and Mole Day celebrations at Georgia Gwinnett College; an All Students Demo Show at Emory University; and chemistry magic shows and hands-on activities at the Fernbank Science Center, in Atlanta.

The Middle Georgia Section’s weeklong activities reached more than 6,000 people. Brewton-Parker College kicked off the festivities with a Saturday Math & Science Festival. Students from Fort Valley State University celebrated NCW with an interactive show for Hunt Elementary School in Fort Valley. The Mercer University ACS student chapter organized several events, including an outreach project to encourage high school students to pursue chemistry in college. And the ACS student chapter at Georgia College & State University hosted an NCW Kickoff Cookout. The week concluded with a “Chemistry on the Lawn” celebration during Family Day at Georgia College & State University.

The celebrations continued throughout Alabama, with demonstrations at a local mall by volunteers from the Alabama Section and the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Students from the university also hosted a chemistry show on campus and collected DVD movies for donation to Kings Ranch, a home for at-risk women and children.

Not to be outdone, the Wilson Dam Section and the University of North Alabama ACS student chapter hosted a Chemistry & Industrial Hygiene Career Day symposium. Guest speakers from local companies described career opportunities in chemistry and industrial hygiene. Approximately 100 students attended the event.

In Louisiana, the Baton Rouge Section’s Super Science Saturday at the Maravich Assembly Center at Louisiana State University attracted more than 1,100 children and their parents. And in the Mississippi Section, students from Hinds Community College, in Raymond, organized a day of outreach for fourth- and fifth-grade students from Raymond Elementary School.

Texas celebrated NCW in a big way with the Central Texas Section sponsoring an activity booth at ScoutJam 2010, which drew Boy Scouts from across the state. Roughly 1,000 people visited the booth, which featured a giant periodic table.

In Lubbock, volunteers from the South Plains Section and students from Texas Tech University put on a demonstration for second-grade students from the A. B. Duncan Elementary School, in Floydada.

Chemistry was also front and center in the Midwest. On Oct. 23, the Southern Illinois Section and Southeast Missouri State University, in Cape Girardeau, sponsored Halloween Science Night. Children dressed like scientists and participated in more than a dozen activities.

Elsewhere in Illinois, the Joliet Section entertained visitors at Westfield Joliet Mall with activities such as analyzing fingerprints, identifying race and gender from human skulls, and watching a chemical reaction spew from a pumpkin’s face.

Local sections in other parts of the Midwest also turned out in force to celebrate NCW. On Oct. 16, the Kalamazoo Section drew more than 1,000 children to Chemistry Day at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Volunteers included high school students, undergraduate and graduate students, industrial chemists, and retired chemists.

As part of the Purdue Section’s NCW celebration, Iota Sigma Pi sent 156 volunteers from Purdue University to 100 classrooms, reaching about 2,500 students in eight West Lafayette and Lafayette elementary schools.

Football fans got a taste of chemistry during the St. Joseph Valley Section NCW activities, which preceded a home football game at the University of Notre Dame. Volunteers engaged visitors to the Jordan Hall of Science in activities such as creating fake blood. The local section also hosted a two-day event at Encouraging Technology & Hands-On Science, in Elkhart, Ind., which attracted 1,200 people.

The Indiana Section collected more than 400 lb of donated food for the needy during its NCW celebration at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Other highlights included a video competition for high school students and a T-shirt design competition for sixth-grade students.

In Wisconsin, volunteers from the Central Wisconsin Section and students from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, came together to host chemistry night at the Stevens Point Boys & Girls Club. Visitors explored the properties of soap and learned how to make nylon.

On Oct. 23, the Michigan State University Section hosted its 24th annual Chemistry Day celebration at the Impression 5 Science Center, in Lansing. Nearly 1,000 visitors to the science center enjoyed free admission and a free pair of safety glasses, courtesy of Emergent BioSolutions. Boy and Girl Scouts earned a participation patch for completing nine hands-on activities.

The Ohio local sections also drew big crowds with their outreach activities. More than 3,500 people attended a weeklong celebration hosted by the Toledo Section. Volunteers from the local section, the University of Toledo, and area high schools engaged visitors at Imagination Station science museum in hands-on activities such as making fake blood from edible ­ingredients.

Members of the Cincinnati Section performed free chemistry demonstrations at libraries around greater Cincinnati. The celebration concluded with an event at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Members of the local section also appeared on television to promote the demonstrations.

The Dayton Section organized hands-on activities at the Dayton Regional STEM School and the Washington-Centerville Public Library. Students learned how dry ice is used for special effects in movies. Visitors to the library made fake snow, glow-in-the-dark slime, and invisible ink.

In Akron, seventh- and eighth-grade students at St. Sebastian School also learned how dry ice is used to produce special effects in movies through demonstrations by volunteers from the Akron Section. And in Hiram, students from the Hiram College Chemistry Club organized a movie chemistry “Jeopardy” game. Other activities included using a pickle to conduct electricity and making movie fog.

The Upper Ohio Valley Section engaged visitors at the Grand Central Mall in Vienna, W.Va., with hands-on activities. Roughly 75 children and their parents attended the event, many leaving with chemistry-related prizes. On Oct. 23, the Marietta College Chemistry Club hosted its inaugural Mole Day 6K Fun Run & Walk, completed by nearly 70 participants.

As part of the East Tennessee Section’s NCW activities, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, chemistry professor Al Hazari performed his 20th annual Magic of Chemistry demonstration, which was attended by roughly 400 people. Hazari also hosted 20 homeschool students, who attended his freshman chemistry class and toured the chemistry department.

Chemistry in the movies dominated the Nashville Section’s NCW activities at the Adventure Science Center on Oct. 23. Volunteers dressed as movie wizards assisted visitors in activities such as making magic potions and fake snow. Elsewhere in Tennessee, students from Tennessee Tech University constructed a giant buckyball out of balloons in honor of the 25th anniversary of the discovery of C60 fullerenes.

The Northeast Tennessee Section reached children in 27 schools with its 20th annual Celebration of Chemistry event. Students rotated through 10 activity stations and enjoyed a chemistry show. Each student received a T-shirt and a bag filled with treats.

The Salt Lake Section presented NCW badges to 180 children who were named honorary chemists during an event at the Salt Lake City Public Library. The children watched a magic show and participated in 15 hands-on activities involving invisible ink, color-changing solutions, and liquids that became solids.

Chemistry captured the imagination of children along the West Coast as well. The California and Santa Clara Valley Sections hosted several joint events, including Family Science Night at Claremont Middle School, in Oakland, and Chemistry—Colorful & Fun in 2010 at eight venues around northern California. In addition, more than 100 children and their families participated in Mole Day activities at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose.

The San Joaquin Valley Section celebrated NCW with a networking event and Mole Day activities at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana. Volunteers included members of the San Joaquin Valley Section and students from California State University, Fresno, and Fresno City College. The Fresno State Chemistry Club concluded the week with its annual Kiss-a-Pig fundraiser to support the club’s activities.

Despite rainy weather, the San Diego Section’s Chem Expo 2010 drew more than 1,000 high school, middle school, and elementary school students as well as their parents and teachers.

By contrast, gorgeous weather greeted visitors to the Santa Ana Zoo, where the Orange County Section set up activities assisted by local college students. More than 2,500 people attended, and nearly half were given free admission to the zoo. In addition, roughly 300 people attended Rudy’s Radical Science Show by Rudy Gonzales.

Finally, the Puerto Rico Section held its annual Festival de Química in San Juan. More than 300 volunteers, including those from various ACS student chapters in Puerto Rico, engaged 2,000 kids in activities. Student volunteers wore costumes related to movie themes.

Next year’s NCW celebration will be held on Oct. 16–22, with the theme “Chemistry—Our Health, Our Future.”

More On This Story

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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CATCHING FIRE: Students from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, demonstrate methane gas flammability during an Alabama Section event. Michael Ray
CATCHING FIRE Students from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, demonstrate methane gas flammability during an Alabama Section event.
FACE-OFF: As part of the Georgia Section's NCW activities, students from Emory University perform chemistry on a pumpkin. Douglas Mulford
FACE-OFF As part of the Georgia Section's NCW activities, students from Emory University perform chemistry on a pumpkin.
GET READY: Undergraduates at Southeast Missouri State University prepare to do demonstrations during Halloween Science Night as part of the Southern Illinois Section's NCW celebration. Matthew Richardson
GET READY Undergraduates at Southeast Missouri State University prepare to do demonstrations during Halloween Science Night as part of the Southern Illinois Section's NCW celebration.
AHA! MOMENT: Students electrify a pickle during the Kalamazoo Section's activities at Michigan's Kalmazoo Valley Museum. Elena C. Hines
AHA! MOMENT Students electrify a pickle during the Kalamazoo Section's activities at Michigan's Kalmazoo Valley Museum.
REACTION: Michelle Watch, a student at Mount Saint Mary College, creates tie-dyed milk for schoolchildren during a Mid-Hudson Section event. Dean DiMarzo
REACTION Michelle Watch, a student at Mount Saint Mary College, creates tie-dyed milk for schoolchildren during a Mid-Hudson Section event.
MIX IT UP: A girl participating in the Orange County Section's activities at California's Santa Ana Zoo makes polymers from glue and borax. Carol J. Grimes
MIX IT UP A girl participating in the Orange County Section's activities at California's Santa Ana Zoo makes polymers from glue and borax.
AWESTRUCK: Children learn about chemiluminescence during the Cincinnati Section's event at Salem Township Library. Bill Crawford
AWESTRUCK Children learn about chemiluminescence during the Cincinnati Section's event at Salem Township Library.
FURRY FRIENDS: Nick L. Mole (second from left) made a special appearance at Fresno City College during the San Joaquin Valley Sections' NCW festivities. With him are, from left, Dave Balogh, Karin Gruet, and Christian Villandi. Kirk Kawagoe
FURRY FRIENDS Nick L. Mole (second from left) made a special appearance at Fresno City College during the San Joaquin Valley Sections' NCW festivities. With him are, from left, Dave Balogh, Karin Gruet, and Christian Villandi.
COLD SPELL: Marvin Lang dips a balloon into liquid nitrogen to demonstrate the effects of temperature on gases during a chemistry show at California State University, East Bay, hosted by the California and Santa Clara Valley Sections. Alex Madonik
COLD SPELL Marvin Lang dips a balloon into liquid nitrogen to demonstrate the effects of temperature on gases during a chemistry show at California State University, East Bay, hosted by the California and Santa Clara Valley Sections.
HANDS-ON: Schoolchildren learn about the properties of non-Newtonian fluids at the Northeast Tennessee Section's Celebration of Chemistry. Spencer Hochstetler
HANDS-ON Schoolchildren learn about the properties of non-Newtonian fluids at the Northeast Tennessee Section's Celebration of Chemistry.
PRIDE: A student from the Stevens Point Boys & Girls Club shows off the slime and marbled paper he made during an event hosted by the Central Wisconsin Section. Robin Tanke
PRIDE A student from the Stevens Point Boys & Girls Club shows off the slime and marbled paper he made during an event hosted by the Central Wisconsin Section.
SUSPENSE: Two girls watch as fake snow forms in a glass during a Dayton Section event at Washington-Centerville Public Library. Joy Haley
SUSPENSE Two girls watch as fake snow forms in a glass during a Dayton Section event at Washington-Centerville Public Library.
KEEP THEM COMING: A child attending Michigan State University's Chemistry Day at Impression 5 Science Center holds carbon dioxide-filled bubbles. Amy M. Pollock
KEEP THEM COMING A child attending Michigan State University's Chemistry Day at Impression 5 Science Center holds carbon dioxide-filled bubbles.
WHAT'S THAT?: Students from Raymond Elementary School observe chemistry in action during the Mississippi Section's NCW celebration at Hinds Community College. Raymond Elementary School
WHAT'S THAT? Students from Raymond Elementary School observe chemistry in action during the Mississippi Section's NCW celebration at Hinds Community College.
WONDER: Volunteers dress up as movie characters during the Puerto Rico Section's Festival de QuÍmica in San Juan. Johanna Fajardo
WONDER Volunteers dress up as movie characters during the Puerto Rico Section's Festival de QuÍmica in San Juan.
STARSTRUCK: Volunteers from the St. Joseph Valley Section transform their NCW venue into a Hollywood movie set. Courtesy of the St. Joseph Valley Section
STARSTRUCK Volunteers from the St. Joseph Valley Section transform their NCW venue into a Hollywood movie set.
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
  • Print this article
  • Email the editor

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