Chemists use the arts, humanities to simplify scientific language

August 18, 2004

Imagine a poem about the latest advances in chemistry. Or a play about the discovery of a gas.

Several noted scientists are using theater, poetry, photography and other creative tools to help translate the technical jargon of science into more understandable language. Examples of this novel approach to explaining science will be given at a special event during the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, Sunday, Aug. 22. The session, which is open to the public at no cost, will be held from 2-5 p.m. in the Liberty Ballroom of the Philadelphia Marriott.

The event -- "President's Cultural Event: Science, the Arts & the Humanities" -- hosted by ACS President Charles P. Casey, Ph.D., and co-sponsored by the ACS Division of Chemical Education, is a forum for scientists and writers who have succeeded in linking science with the arts and humanities.

The session will include the reading of excerpts from the acclaimed play, "Oxygen," written by Carl Djerassi, Ph.D., winner of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology, and Roald Hoffmann, Ph.D, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The play, which shifts between 1777 and the present, dramatizes the 18th-century discovery of oxygen and an imaginary Nobel committee's 21st-century sensibilities as it argues about who of three distinguished scientists should be awarded the first "retro" Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Speaking at the event will be Dava Sobel, award-winning writer and former New York Times science reporter who has contributed articles to Audubon, Discover, Life and The New Yorker, and Felice Frankel, science photographer and research scientist at M.I.T. The organizer of the event, Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., department of chemistry, University of Wisconsin, will introduce the program. Shakhashiri is well-known for his "Science is Fun!" shows that he presents to youngsters, parents and teachers around the country.

As part of the presidential event, four students from the mid-Atlantic area will receive "Chemagination" awards from the ACS for writing articles that describe breakthroughs or innovations related to chemistry that could improve the quality of life of teenagers 25 years in the future. The articles, which highlight biotechnology, medicine and health care, new materials, and transportation and the environment, will be described in ChemMatters - an award-winning quarterly magazine for high school chemistry students, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. Each issue features articles about chemistry at work in everyday life.

Posters of the students' articles will be on display, and open to the public, prior to the Presidential Cultural Event, from noon to 2 p.m. in Independence I, of the Philadelphia Marriott.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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