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January 12, 2009
Volume 87, Number 2
p. 56

Rah-Rah For Science

Serving as cheerleaders for science is, in a figurative sense, one of the roles that organizations like the American Chemical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science play. Darlene Cavalier, a Pennsylvania mother of four, a former business developer for Walt Disney Publishing Worldwide, and a onetime cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers, is a vociferous fan of science and, with her slam-dunk smile and enthusiasm, is adding a literal verve to the idea of science cheerleading.

Courtesy of Darlene Cavalier
S-U-C-C-E-S-S: Former cheerleader Cavalier is teaming with author Trefil to give science a public boost.

This past April, Cavalier launched SCIENCECHEERLEADER.COM. "I don't want to just preach to the choir," she tells C&EN, referring to the tendency for the science-interested among us to speechify to the science-interested among us. One of Cavalier's aims is to move the masses to become citizen scientists. By way of her website, she hopes to match site visitors with scientists who want to recruit volunteers to, say, measure local water quality, observe firefly populations, or help catalog a repository of galactic images into categories such as "spiral" or "elliptical." Alas, any would-be citizen scientists who in early January tried to find a chemistry project would have received a "Not Found" message. One up note on that: the deflating message pops up underneath the website's "Science Cheerleader" banner that, in chemically promising detail, features the silhouette of a cheerleader standing on the upwardly pointing oxygen atom of a water molecule.

With her website, Cavalier also hopes to catalyze the voting public to political action in support of such causes as the resurrection of the Office of Technology Assessment, which some years ago was helping to keep the nation's legislators impartially informed about science and technology issues underlying many bills and other legislative actions.

Science literacy is perhaps Cavalier's central mission, and for this one she is teaming up with George Mason University physics professor and renowned science communicator James S. Trefil. "I'm the content guy," Trefil clarifies.

Using her own cheerleading credentials, Cavalier has arranged for a Trefil-informed scientific moment to unfold at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center on Jan. 24. Just before tipoff in a game against the New York Knicks, the 76ers' 17-member cheerleading squad will regale attentive fans with choreographed cheers based on the 18 scientific concepts that Trefil, in his 2007 book "Why Science?" says any person needs to grasp to be scientifically literate. On that night, Danielle, Jaeneen, and other 76ers' cheerleaders, including the elemental-sounding Vi, will be asking fans to "give it up" for concepts such as "evolution by natural selection," "all living things are made of cells," and "the world is made of atoms." Cavalier has hired a film crew to capture the cheers and she will use the video snippets to lure more people to her website for a science literacy lesson.

Happy to be a part of the effort, Trefil also shared his private hope with C&EN of getting a picture of himself with the 76ers' cheerleading squad, which he then could gloatingly flash in his peers' faces. For the cause of science literacy, Trefil notes, "you try everything, from formal classroom stuff to museums to anything that works."

That's how Cavalier sees it too. "I want to give my peers and friends a reason to get turned back on to science and get them interested in issues so they can learn and become part of the dialogue," she says.

Go Darlene, Darlene, go, go!

Ivan Amato wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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