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January 27, 2003
Volume 81, Number 04
CENEAR 81 04 pp. 63
ISSN 0009-2347


Early last month, an american Chemical Society delegation of 13 chemistry educators attended the 17th Chemistry Conference in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. The conference, which included plenary lectures, oral and poster presentations, and a preconference workshop, was sponsored by the chemistry department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Oriente. More than 300 chemists from North America, Latin America, and Europe participated in sessions on physical, analytical, environmental, inorganic and organic chemistry, chemical engineering, and chemical education.

ALL SMILES Students and ACS delegates mingle in Havana.

The delegration's trip was sponsored by the International Activities Committee of the ACS Division of Chemical Education, and by the Subcommittee of Scientific Freedom & Human Rights of the Joint Board-Council Committee on International Activities, both of which are chaired by chemistry professor Zafra M. Lerman of Columbia College, Chicago.

The education workshop for chemistry teachers was a highlight of the meeting, and several delegates participated. "It was a great opportunity to make Cuban educators aware of chemical education projects that could be models for future studies in Cuba. It also provided us with firsthand knowledge of an educational system far different from ours," says ACS delegate James H. Reeves, professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

"The workshop was very well attended by more than 40 professional educators, mostly from Cuba but also from Spain and even the United Arab Emirates," Maria T. Oliver-Hoyo, professor of chemistry at North Carolina State University, tells C&EN. Oliver-Hoyo presented her talk in Spanish. Its translated title is "Strategies To Improve Conceptual Understanding and Attitudes of Students toward Chemistry."

Reeves's talk focused on distance-learning courses that feature "kitchen chemistry" labs, which use experiments designed to be done at home using readily available materials. "To my surprise, what we would consider 'readily available'--baking soda, for example--is often not available" in Cuba, he says.

Reeves says he plans to collaborate with Luis Bello, chemistry professor at the University of Oriente, the delegation's host, and others in translating the labs to Spanish and substituting materials that are available in Cuba.

Other presentations included one by Cathy Middlecamp, director of the Chemistry Learning Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, titled "Teaching Chemistry in 'Real World' Contexts" and one by Carmen Valdez Gauthier, chairman of the chemistry and physics department at Florida Southern College, Lakeland. In this talk, Gauthier answered questions about conducting research in a predominantly teaching institution with limited resources.

The conference symposium on chemical education was organized by Bello and Marieta Gomez Serrano, of the University of Oriente, and Lerman. Many in the ACS delegation had prepared their visuals in both English and in Spanish. "The ACS participants learned about pharmaceutical research being conducted in Cuba, which has produced many new drugs currently being used in Europe and in other parts of the world, but not in the U.S.," Lerman says.

In addition to the chemical educators and chemists who participated in the symposium on chemical education, about 40 undergraduates from the university attended the presentations by the ACS members. "We were extremely impressed with the students' chemistry knowledge, amount of participation, maturity, eagerness to interact with ACS members, and their wishes to maintain contact," Lerman says.

This group of students spent two days with the ACS delegation talking about their studies and trying to learn as much as possible about ACS and about chemistry in the U.S. Many e-mails have been exchanged since the conference. 

"THE CUBANS we met had the resourcefulness, charm, humor, and determination to make do with what they have--which is very little in material wealth--in a Third World, communist, Caribbean nation that is isolated economically by the most powerful First World country on Earth," notes delegate Morton Z. Hoffman, a chemistry professor at Boston University.

During the return trip to the U.S., the delegation had to spend time in Havana to make connecting flights. While in Havana, in addition to meeting with Roberto Cao of the chemistry department and Georgina Aguero, associate dean of chemistry at the University of Havana, the delegation had an opportunity to interact with more Cuban undergraduates. Students from the University of Havana mingled with 375 U.S. undergraduates who were with the program "Pittsburgh University Semester at Sea."

The U.S. students were excited to report that Fidel Castro came on board the ship to greet them. Apparently, this ship arrives in Havana a few times each year and is greeted personally by Castro every time it docks.

"I have never been at a conference where there has been continuous communications from the attendees and the presenters," Gauthier tells C&EN. "I think that we have all established good relationships with our colleagues from Cuba and Latin America and Europe."--LINDA RABER



The 39th Congress of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry is being held in conjunction with the 86th Conference of the Canadian Society for Chemistry in Ottawa, Aug. 10–15. The deadline for abstract submission is Feb. 14. For more information, go to the conference website at


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