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National Chemistry Week helps families discover polymers, November 7-13

October 28, 1999

If you picked up a cell phone, put on cotton fabric or Teflon sports gear, changed a disposable diaper or just had lunch today, you've been putting polymers to use - and during this year's National Chemistry Week, November 7-13, families across the U.S. will have a chance to learn more about these everyday results of chemistry. Now in its 12th year, National Chemistry Week is sponsored by the world's largest scientific society, the American Chemical Society.

Thousands of children and their families are expected to participate in more than 200 communities across the U.S. in contests, hands-on demonstrations, exhibits, historic ceremonies, lectures and other activities held in malls, parks, schools and museums.

Polymers are a class of chemicals that are both natural and synthetic, including such substances as plastic, Kevlar and Teflon, cotton fabric, and even hair. They also can be found in the foods we eat, in fur and feathers on animals, and in natural substances like rubber and tree sap. A polymer is a very large molecule that is made up of repeating chemical units bonded together in a long chain; usually, it contains carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and/or silicon. Many communities will be using the absorbency of disposable diapers - helped by the polymer filling called sodium polyacrylate - in hands-on activities and projects during the week.

Among the local activities featured in this year's National Chemistry Week are:
  • Washington, D.C.: Local high school students will conduct chemistry demos for local 4th and 5th grade students at ACS headquarters.

  • Bartlesville, Okla.: ACS will designated the discovery of crystalline polypropylene as a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

  • San Francisco, Calif.: Dr. Glenn Seaborg will be honored at the Nov. 13 UC Berkeley CAL football game.

  • Pittsburgh, Pa.: Volunteer scientists, teachers and students will conduct chemistry related hands-on science experiments, activities and demonstrations at the Carnegie Science Center.
Parents and children are invited to enter a special contest, "When in the Century?" on the National Chemistry Week Web site at Important chemistry events of the 20th Century must be matched to the decade in which they occurred. Winners will be selected at random from the pool of correct entries, and will be announced on November 12. Parents also can find free ideas and information for hands-on activities on the site, including special articles about polymers and their everyday uses.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of nearly 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes 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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