Big Week for Small Things


By Terri Sota

National Chemistry WeekPreparations are under way for National Chemistry Week's (NCW) silver jubilee. This year, big celebrations around the nation will be held in oh-so-small ways. Nanotechnology: The Smallest BIG Idea in Science is the overarching theme for the many community-based events occurring Oct. 21–27, 2012.

Sponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS), National Chemistry Week relies on 187 regional coordinators to plan local activities. These volunteers are free to incorporate the year's theme in a variety of ways. Lectures, chemistry demonstrations and activity stations are some of the all-admission goings-on each year. Held mainly at malls, community parks and libraries, the events are also staged at several city science centers. Coordinators secure the venue, manage budgets and scale, package giveaways and amass additional volunteers. Offers ACS Communities Activities chair Lynn Hogue, "We also get to share our love for science."

Alvin C. Collins III, Ph.D., is the liaison between ACS and the regional coordinators. The annual event is an opportunity to "put a human face on chemistry and present it in a non-intimidating way," says Collins. The brainchild of former ACS president Dr. George C. Pimentel, NCW promotes awareness of chemistry in everyday life; this year, bicycle frames and sunscreen will serve as two of the illustrative examples.

A key component of all the fun is the ACS-produced Celebrating Chemistry publication. Written by "theme team" members, the booklet is distributed at events (and may be ordered/downloaded online beginning in August) and contains articles, interviews and at-home experiments targeting both English- and Spanish-speaking fourth, fifth and sixth graders (much of the material can be adapted for an older student audience and for classrooms). This fall, the illustrated pages will convey the contributions of nanoscience to energy, materials, health and the environment. Chemistry enthusiasts can find articles defining nanoscience and a behind-the-scenes look at sunscreen and spf, buckyballs, graphene (pencil lead) and hydrogels. The content is easily accessible for both parents and students; high-level concepts are distilled down for the enjoyment of all. In addition to the publication's do-it-yourself investigations, the NCW website lists more than a hundred classroom experiments, as well as suggestions for theme-based outreach activities (for coordinators).

ACS is the world's largest scientific organization and it sponsors a second annually occurring event — Chemists Celebrate Earth Day. To find a coordinator in your area and learn how your class can participate in the Illustrated Poem Contest (K-12) and attend local festivities, please visit:

Classroom Discussion

  • Identify real-world examples of chemical principles in action
  • Participate! Download Celebrating Chemistry, have students compose poems and/or attend a nearby event