In his day, P. T. Barnum was the ultimate showman. Best known as the founder of the circus he dubbed “The Greatest Show on Earth,” he was always coming up with ingenious ways of promoting himself and his many ventures. Once he used an elephant to plow a plot on his farm.
Unimpressed, a neighboring farmer said, “I just want to know
how much it can draw [through the soil]?” Barnum smiled and
then replied, “I don’t know, but it can draw the attention of
20 million Americans to Barnum’s Museum.”
As Chemistry Ambassadors, we don’t need to be as grandiose
as P. T. Barnum. Nor do we necessarily need to put on the “Great-
est Show on Earth.” But a bit of showmanship, flair, and outside-
the-box thinking can add a lot of pizazz to your presentation and
make sharing the wonders of our science in your community
memorable for both you and your audience.
Here are a few novel ideas devised by ACS Chemistry Ambassadors to inspire you and your chapter to come up with outreach
activities that will make a lasting impression on members of your
community about the value of chemistry.
Building the Periodic Table is a snap
A few years ago, chemistry students at Spring Arbor University
in Michigan concocted an idea that even they thought was a bit
wacky. They decided to let kids build a Periodic Table of Elements
made with Legos.
Using Excel, Kristen Lewis and fellow student Charles Schaerer
got the project started by designing templates— essentially blueprints — outlining how to build each Lego element. With grant
money, they purchased 5,890 Lego bricks. Then they recruited
about 20 other students to help them create individual construction kits, consisting of the template, a baseplate, and the bricks
needed to make the element. All of the materials were sealed in
At the Halloween in the Science Lab event, which takes place
during National Chemistry Week, kids attending the event were
allowed to choose a random bag or ask for a certain element as
long as it hadn’t already been built. Students and parents were
available to help out, but Lewis says most of the work was left to
the children. In the end, although some of the elements didn’t
look quite right (they were adjusted after the kids departed), the
evening was a huge success.
“The room was so popular that we ran out of elements about
halfway through the event,” Lewis says.
Today, the Lego Periodic Table, which is about 3. 5 feet tall and
7 feet wide, hangs in the university’s chemistry building and is a
highlight of on-campus tours.
“Seeing the way the kids got so excited about the elements and
the chemistry behind them was very rewarding,” says Lewis, who is
now a graduate student at Indiana University. “I would love to do
something like this again.”
As for advice about producing a hands-on activity that is
unusual, yet educational, she says, “Be willing to look silly, be as
organized as possible beforehand, and let the kids have some free-
dom.” For more information: http://sites.arbor.edu/legoelements.
A funny thing happened on the
way to the chemistry demo
Admittedly, the University of Kansas (Lawrence) student chapter
production of “Frozen Flames” isn’t your typical musical. Instead of
boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, the plot is a face-off
between Dr. Cool and Dr. Pyro. This hot versus cold showdown – an
annual highlight of the chapter’s Carnival of Chemistry– features
students dressed in lab coats performing science-based skits and
singing songs about chemistry for hundreds of children, ranging in
age from toddlers to high school students.
It all got started in 2003 when several members of the chapter, who also happened to be terrific vocalists and stage actors,
conceived and choreographed the 55-minute show. It is a parody
of the play “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”.
The opening song from the play, “Comedy Tonight” was rewritten
Become an ACS Chemistry Ambassador
Receive Support, Recognition, and Extraordinary Ideas
for Sharing Chemistry in Your Community
BY DOUG DOLLEMORE
More about the
ACS Ambassadors Program
As chemists, we help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges
and improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry. By becoming an ACS Chemistry Ambassador, you help educate
people about the importance of chemists and chemistry while taking
part in community activities that are engaging and fulfilling for you.
The Chemistry Ambassadors program provides new ideas for activities, resources to support and strengthen your current activities, and
recognition of your outreach efforts. As a Chemistry Ambassador you
will also receive tools and messages that will resonate with your audience and information about new opportunities to connect with your
community. Learn more at www.acs.org/chemistryambassadors.