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Cover Story

December 15, 2008
Volume 86, Number 50
pp. 10-15

Having A Ball With National Chemistry Week

Through hands-on activities, demonstrations, and competitions, kids connect chemistry to sports

Linda Wang

Photo Gallery

Having A Ball With Chemistry

During National Chemistry Week 2008, ACS local sections promoted the role of chemistry in sports. Here is a sampling of the activities that occurred around the country.

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Hazari (right) of the East Tennessee Section performs his annual chemistry magic show. Nick Myers
EYE-POPPING Hazari (right) of the East Tennessee Section performs his annual chemistry magic show.

THE SUMMER OLYMPICS in Beijing got everyone excited about sports. National Chemistry Week (NCW) got in on the sports action, too, with this year's theme, "Having a Ball with Chemistry."

More than 10,000 volunteers from the American Chemical Society's 189 local sections partnered with businesses, schools, and other organizations to lead demonstrations and hands-on activities for hundreds of thousands of kids, highlighting the role of chemistry in sports, from improving athletic equipment and materials to helping maintain a strong body. The weeklong celebration took place at venues across the U.S. on Oct. 19–25.

NCW is the society's largest chemistry outreach event. Its mission "is to connect chemists with their local communities in an effort to improve the public's perception of chemistry. Through the outreach events, we can get the community involved and engaged with the yearly theme, which always highlights the importance of chemistry in daily lives," says Ingrid Montes, chair of ACS's Committee on Community Activities. The committee oversees NCW activities around the country with support from the ACS Office of Community Activities (OCA).

As in previous years, ACS received a presidential proclamation supporting NCW. "By teaching others about the positive effects of chemistry during National Chemistry Week, ACS is encouraging a new generation of chemists to continue our Nation's legacy of scientific discovery," wrote President George W. Bush. "The imagination and determination of America's future chemists will help our country uncover new possibilities and develop innovations that will build a better life for people around the world."

Although NCW's target audience is fourth- to sixth-grade students, people of all ages benefit from participating, says ACS President Bruce E. Bursten. Parents often get as much out of the activities and demonstrations as their children do, he points out. "I particularly like the reactions of the parents," says Bursten, who attended NCW activities of the New York, East Tennessee, and Northeast Tennessee Sections. "They thought they were there just shepherding their kids, and I think a lot of the parents learned a lot as well."

Volunteers also benefit from being involved in NCW. "It's a great opportunity for students to practice communicating chemistry to the general public," says John G. Kaup, a chemistry lecturer at Clemson University and adviser to the student affiliates chapter there. "I think many students do not think about teaching as a career choice, and doing this gives them a teaching moment."

NCW wouldn't be where it is today without the efforts of all the volunteers, Bursten says. "NCW truly shows the volunteer spirit of ACS," he says. "To have the greatest impact, one has to take the science and translate it into a very personal human touch, and that requires a lot of dedication."

Participating in NCW doesn't have to be a huge time commitment, Montes says. It can be as simple as answering the phone during NCW and announcing, "It's National Chemistry Week!" Alternative easy ways to participate include wearing your favorite NCW T-shirt and asking others to wear theirs. Or you can display NCW brochures and other chemistry-related materials at your local libraries, museums, and other organizations, Montes adds.

Volunteer Wayne Cook helps a student with an activity during the Dayton Section's library event. Joy Haley
KEEP STIRRING Volunteer Wayne Cook helps a student with an activity during the Dayton Section's library event.

A volunteer from the Michigan State University Section compares the treadmarks on different shoes. Xiaoyong Li
HAPPY FEET A volunteer from the Michigan State University Section compares the treadmarks on different shoes.

To reach a broader audience, OCA tapped into new technologies this year and collaborated with other ACS offices, divisions, and committees, says Stacy Jones, NCW team leader and senior membership associate in OCA. For example, OCA used online social networking tools such as Second Life and Facebook to raise awareness about NCW.

IN ADDITION, the ACS Office of Public Affairs produced four special episodes of their "Bytesize Science" podcast covering various sports topics, such as the chemistry of artificial turf and advances in sports gear. And the ACS Office of International Activities helped produce Spanish versions of the podcasts.

Meanwhile, ChemMatters, the ACS magazine for high school students, devoted its October issue to sports-related topics. And Celebrating Chemistry, the ACS newspaper for elementary school students, highlighted chemistry in sports materials, as well as sports nutrition. In the District of Columbia, the ACS Staff Council's Community Outreach Committee held a sports equipment collection drive for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

Chemical companies also supported NCW. Rohm and Haas, for example, partnered with the Franklin Institute, a nonprofit science museum in Philadelphia, to run a sports poster contest for kids. The company also produced several videos illustrating how chemistry has improved sports such as tennis, hockey, basketball, and snowboarding. The videos and winners of the poster contest are featured at

Several competitions challenged students. Those in grades K–12 participated in a poster contest about how chemistry is used in sports. And undergraduate student affiliate chapters competed in the Chemvention competition. This year's challenge was to develop a hands-on activity for schoolchildren in fourth to sixth grade based on next year's NCW theme, "Celebrating Chemistry—It's Elemental!"

The five Chemvention finalists are chapters from Lake Forest College, in Illinois; Idaho State University; Spring Arbor University, in Michigan; Catawba College, in North Carolina; and the University of Central Florida. Each chapter will present its poster at Sci-Mix during the spring ACS national meeting in Salt Lake City.

The grand prize winner is Lake Forest College. The chapter will receive $2,500 toward travel to an ACS national meeting. The remaining chapters will each receive $1,000 for travel to an ACS national meeting.

There's no one way to celebrate NCW, Montes says, and it's this diversity that makes NCW so rich. C&EN asked local sections to submit summaries of their NCW activities. Here are some highlights.

Roughly 1,200 children and their parents participated in the New York Section's annual NCW celebration, which the section hosted in partnership with and at the New York Hall of Science. "It is absolutely breathtaking when you walk through the entry and see 7,000 sq ft of space supported by a 100-foot-high convoluted wall of blue glass," Bursten says of the Great Hall, where some 40 demonstrations and hands-on activities took place.

ACS volunteers from more than a dozen nearby colleges, universities, and businesses, including New York University, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Pepsi Cola, designed and staffed the demonstrations. "It was a remarkably synergistic mix of academia and industry, using their passion, creativity, and boundless energy to achieve a common goal, namely spreading the message about the centrality and fascination of chemistry," Bursten says.

Mole illustrations by Jim Starr
Members of the North Jersey Section pose with Robin Roberts (second from left) and Diane Sawyer (second from right), anchors for the TV show Jeannette Brown
CAMERA READY Members of the North Jersey Section pose with Robin Roberts (second from left) and Diane Sawyer (second from right), anchors for the TV show "Good Morning America."

Bursten speaks to kids during a Northeast Tennessee Section event at Eastman Chemical. Steve Falling
ROLE MODEL Bursten speaks to kids during a Northeast Tennessee Section event at Eastman Chemical.

Elsewhere in the state, the Northern New York Section took the sports theme and ran with it. Children participated in a variety of hands-on activities at Saint Mary's School, in Canton, including comparing the physical properties of different balls used in athletics. The Eastern New York Section also played up the sports theme and even rented space at a local hockey rink for their hands-on activities and demonstrations.

Among the Syracuse Section's activities at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology, in downtown Syracuse, was a demonstration on the chemistry of ballpark food, such as popcorn and cotton candy. And the Corning Section engaged more than 750 middle school students in their activities.

In New Jersey, three members of the North Jersey Section visited the television program "Good Morning America" to promote NCW. Other activities included workshops for science teachers led by the section's Teacher Affiliates Group; chemistry demonstrations by area high school students; visits by chemists to local schools and libraries; and a celebration at the Liberty Science Center, in Jersey City.

Student affiliates from Mercer County Community College and Rider University performed demonstrations for five elementary schools as part of the Trenton Section's NCW celebration. And the Princeton Section held a Chemistry in Sports activities night where participants learned about new materials used in sports, light-emitting diodes used in bicycle lights, and liquid-crystal displays used in timers.

Farther north, more than 500 people gathered for an event sponsored by the Northeastern Section at the Museum of Science, in Boston. The section also organized a lecture series for high school students on sports-related topics such as the chemistry of materials.

More than 600 kids and their parents attended the Delaware Section's Family Science Adventure event, which was held at Independence School, in Newark. And the Philadelphia Section's Women Chemists Committee hosted its annual Expand Your Horizons event at Chestnut Hill College, where 120 sixth-grade girls learned about dairy chemistry by making butter and cheese.

The Maryland Section celebrated chemistry in sports with such activities as comparing the amount of electrolytes in apple juice and various energy drinks. The Chemical Society of Washington Section also highlighted chemistry in sports during Young Scholars' Day at Lucy Ellen Moten Elementary School. Hands-on activities included measuring the amount of sugar in various drinks, testing substances for electrolytes, and using magnetic stirrers to detect the presence of iron in breakfast cereals.

The Virginia Section partnered with area chemistry clubs to host a Chemistry Olympics event for some 600 children at the Science Museum of Virginia, in Richmond. Participants learned about solar-powered cars and polymeric materials used in swimsuits.

Student affiliates from West Virginia University baked and arranged cupcakes in the form of the periodic table and gave them away for free on Mole Day (an Oct. 23 celebration of Avogadro's number) as part of the Northern West Virginia Section's activities.

The sports theme dominated Central North Carolina Section's Chemistry Day event at the Girl Scout Learning Center, in Colfax. Visitors learned the role of superabsorbent polymers in many sports-related materials, from helicopter landing pads to artificial snow.

Children attending the South Carolina Section's activities at the EdVenture Children's Museum, in Columbia, rotated through 15 hands-on activity stations. In addition, visitors were treated to a science show in the museum's auditorium. The Western Carolinas Section again sponsored activities at a local mall and various events at area elementary and middle schools. They also organized bilingual science demos as part of the Hispanic Education Fair.

Volunteers from the Savannah River Section led hands-on activities at Aiken Mall, in South Carolina; the National Science Center's Fort Discovery, in Augusta, Ga.; and the University of South Carolina, in Aiken. Activities included making balls out of glue and a borax solution and observing how high they could bounce.

The Baton Rouge Section partnered with local industries, universities, and scientific societies to host its annual Super Science Saturday at Louisiana State University's field house. Volunteers from 11 different organizations did hands-on demonstrations for more than 600 children and their parents.

At the Sci-Port Discovery Center, in Shreveport, more than 200 children and their parents participated in hands-on activities sponsored by the Northwest Louisiana Section.

Student affiliates and chemistry clubs turned out in force to help run the South Florida Section's Family Day event, which was held at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery & Science.

The midwestern local sections continued their tradition of putting in a strong performance during NCW. More than 1,200 people attended the Michigan State University Section's annual Chemistry Day event at Impression 5 Science Center, in Lansing. Attendees learned about electrolytes in sports drinks, the effect of temperature on sports balls, and polymers used in sports equipment.

The Minnesota Section gave out Olympic medals and other sports-related prizes to the more than 100 children who participated in its activities at a library in downtown Minneapolis.

In the bordering state of Wisconsin, 50 students from eight high schools participated in the LaCrosse-Winona Section's chemistry challenge by identifying various polymeric materials, analyzing sports drinks and breakfast cereals, and analyzing antidoping evidence. The Lake Superior Section sent scientists to visit nearby elementary schools. And the Central Wisconsin Section impressed kindergarteners and third-graders with demonstrations of color-changing solutions.

About 750 middle school students rotated through various activities set up by the Corning Section. Courtesy of Corning Section
MY TURN About 750 middle school students rotated through various activities set up by the Corning Section.

The Indiana Section's chemistry show created a lot of heat. Bob Wiens
Ignition The Indiana Section's chemistry show created a lot of heat.

Roughly 60 children participated in the Illinois-Iowa Section's activities, which included making Olympic gold and silver coins from pennies and painting the Olympic rings with color-changing reactions.

The Indiana Section hosted an event at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, which was attended by roughly 4,000 people. The section also highlighted the importance of giving by participating in a walk to benefit a local charity that provides shoes to needy children. It also sponsored a high school chemistry competition where 12 high school teams searched for creative ways to give away $200.

Visitors attending an event at Kalamazoo Valley Museum, in Michigan, sponsored by the Kalamazoo Section learned how to take care of their muscles before, during, and after exercise. They also learned how to prepare their own sports drinks. In addition, physicians demonstrated how to prevent sports-related infections.

At the St. Louis Science Center, volunteers from the St. Louis Section hosted a chemistry expo for some 700 visitors.

In Kentucky, the Lexington Section honored Mole Day by starting their program at Danville High School at exactly 6:02 PM (Avogadro's number is approximately 6.02 ×1023). The Louisville Section sponsored sports-related activities at the Louisville Science Center, such as comparing the buoyancy of bowling balls of different weights in water.

In Ohio, the Dayton Section made a splash at Washington-Centerville Public Library, where volunteers used hydrophobic sand (also called "magic sand") to demonstrate to about 50 children how the hydrophobic properties of some swimsuits help improve speed. The section also hosted an event at Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, in Dayton, which drew some 200 children.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, chemistry professor Al Hazari scored another touchdown for the East Tennessee Section with his crowd-pleasing Chemistry Magic Show. More than 350 children and adults attended the event.

Despite the snow falling outside, the Salt Lake Section's event at the Salt Lake City Public Library went off without a hitch. In one activity, children matched pieces of materials to the type of sports clothing they would normally be found in.

The Idaho State University Chemistry Club hosted a free magic show at Idaho State University's Pocatello and Idaho Falls campuses as part of the Idaho Section's NCW activities. And the Southern Nevada Section held chemistry demonstrations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for roughly 100 fifth-grade students and their teachers.

The Heart O'Texas Section kicked off its week of activities with a visit to the Railroad & Heritage Museum, in Temple, where volunteers performed demonstrations as part of the museum's Family Day. The South Texas Section sponsored hands-on activities at a local college, library, and middle school.

Children who participated in the Central New Mexico Section's activities learned about the role chemists play in developing materials for sporting equipment.

NCW fans flocked to the California Section's Family Science Night at Oak Grove Middle School, in Concord. Visitors were treated to a chemistry magic show and hands-on activities and demonstrations, such as matching plant scents with molecular models and making ice cream with liquid nitrogen.

Kids observe a chemical reaction during an event hosted by the Illinois-Iowa Section. Shannan Retter
BENCH CHEMISTS Kids observe a chemical reaction during an event hosted by the Illinois-Iowa Section.

The Santa Clara Valley Section had a public outreach booth at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, in San José, Calif. More than 40 college student volunteers helped kids with activities such as extracting iron from breakfast cereal.

Gorgeous weather greeted visitors at the Orange County Section's event at the Santa Ana Zoo. The event was attended by more than 1,000 people. The Mojave Desert Section challenged undergraduate chemistry majors from Bakersfield College with a poster contest.

And abroad, the Puerto Rico Section partnered with nine student affiliate chapters from around the island to host Festival de Química in San Juan. More than 400 volunteers helped with the event, which was attended by some 4,000 people. Student affiliate chapters also conducted activities and demonstrations at area schools and libraries.

Plans are already under way for next year's NCW, which will celebrate the periodic table of elements with the theme "Chemistry—It's Elemental!" Events will take place on Oct. 18–24, 2009.

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ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

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