A Bright Future for US STEMs from Students' Love of Chemistry
12:59 PM MDT | June 9, 2011 | By KATIE HUNT, DOW CHEMICAL
It’s no secret that a fundamental understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is essential to sustaining a global economy. We’ve been alerted by President Obama that America’s 15-year-olds rank 21st in science and 25th in math compared to their peers around the world; but it doesn’t have to be this way. With more than 90 percent of all manufactured products in the world touched by the power of chemistry, our industry is, and must continue to be, a positive force for change in the world.
Today, the pressing challenge for us to address is how to inspire and engage the next generation in the excitement of, and better yet, the pursuit of chemistry. I firmly believe that together we can take this challenge head-on and turn the tide. In fact, it’s already happening in my backyard – right here in the Delaware Valley. In honor of 2011 being the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), Dow has been engaged in a series of events designed to identify and enroll the next generation of scientists – starting locally but sharing globally.
In an effort to stimulate creativity and friendly competition, Dow and the Chemical Heritage Foundation invited thousands of teachers and students to participate in It’s Elemental, a nationwide video contest. The prize for 11 lucky schools was a $5,000 grant to enable their science department’s dream program. We announced this contest in the beginning of the school year (Fall 2010) with a call for videos (5 minutes maximum) depicting one of the elements of the periodic table – due date: January 2011. Nearly 700 individuals and teams entered the contest from 36 states across the U.S. The level of creativity poured into these videos was, and continues to be, truly inspirational. Check them out, and let me know what you think!
As scientists, we all know that chemistry is fundamental to our daily lives—but how do we tell that story? Well, we decided to make our own videos. More specifically, Dow and The Franklin Institute partnered to launch Celebrate Chemistry, an educational video series featuring Derrick Pitts, and yours truly conducting science experiments using common household materials. In “The Baking Soda Volcano,” students are introduced to some elemental acid-base chemistry. In “The Chemistry of Blood,” students explore the types and compatibility, or incompatibility, of blood. In “Just for the Sport of It,” baseball fans learn how science can be used to search for the “sweet spot” on a bat. The Celebrate Chemistry brochure includes step-by-step instructions for each experiment, as well as the list of materials needed to safety get your “science side” in gear.
After months of planning, April finally arrived. For two full weeks, the inaugural Philadelphia Science Festival brought the city alive with dozens of free events – not only at museums, schools, and libraries but also on street corners, brew pubs and concert halls. On Saturday, April 16, despite the impending rain, nearly 10,000 visitors and more than 100 organizations joined with Dow for the first-ever Science Carnival on the Parkway. During the Festival’s Carnival on the Parkway, Dow scientists conducted the Celebrate Chemistry experiments live, hosted an Eco-IQ interactive sustainability quiz and entertained everyone with an augmented reality activity that associated elements of the periodic table with everyday items from toothpaste to cell phones. If you missed it, don’t worry! You can virtually attend the Carnival online.
Over the past six months, I’ve come to appreciate just how bright the future can, and should be. Throughout the Philadelphia Science Festival and It’s Elemental, students showed not only curiosity and ingenuity, but also passion and persistence. As the next generation of scientists is “born” from the vital collaborations taking place – right here at home, across the US and around the world – I am thrilled to remember that it’s only June and we still have 6 more glorious months to celebrate 2011, The International Year of Chemistry.
So what are you doing for IYC….visiting a classroom? A local library? Your Congressional representative? Or maybe you are looking for just the right experiment or a little refresher training. Now is the time to visit www.dow.com/iyc and get into the act! Working together we can make a different – a real positive difference – for our kids, our communities, and our world!
Catherine T. “Katie” Hunt, Ph.D.
Director, Innovation Sourcing and Sustainable Technologies
The Dow Chemical Company