National Chemistry Week begins on October 16 this year. It’s a time for celebration, a time to highlight chemistry’s contributions to our lives, a time to spark interest in this particular science. How will you mark the occasion? Participation in community outreach activities, perhaps? Highlighting NCW in your classes? I suggest adding an exercise in contemplation to your week, compliments of the October 2016 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education.
To begin, read Robert Q. Thompson’s editorial Forensic Chemistry and Its Flip Side (available to non-subscribers through sponsored access). It focuses on the American Chemical Society’s chosen NCW theme for 2016, forensic chemistry. His message begins with a recognition of chemistry’s contribution to forensic science, the work of chemists to bring those who commit crimes to justice, and its use in education to spur those who may not have a deep interest in chemistry to connect with it as a subject. These all relate to the typical aims of NCW listed above, and we can utilize this particular theme to share chemistry. Thompson states, “So I am upbeat about forensic science research and education.”
He then moves into the “Flip Side” of his title. “But I am also concerned and conflicted by the fact that forensic science in the main deals only with the aftermath of horrible and heinous acts. Forensic science is only a response, only a reaction to crime and violence. … What about preventing or mitigating the effects of illegal activity? What can chemists do?” Thompson cites real life examples, such as Kevlar used in bullet-proof vests. He then raises the idea of potential futuristic scientific developments: bullets that stop but don’t kill, imagers to detect guns, vapors less harsh than pepper spray to calm a crowd. Consider the chemistry of the past and today, but picture the chemistry of tomorrow. What other contributions do you and your students envision for this flip side?
This flip side leads into the most thought-provoking portion of his editorial. He brings up the violence that permeates our world, our students’ world. “Our students come to us in this tense environment. How are we to respond? Can we as educators mitigate the effects?” He feels we can and we must. “Content and caring are both required in the classroom.” Have you already dealt with this in your classroom? How could a larger discussion benefit other current and future chemistry classrooms?
I strongly encourage you to reflect on Thompson’s thoughts, as well as two pieces he quotes—a blog post by Steven Volk (a colleague at Oberlin college) and an editorial by past JCE editor-in-chief John W. Moore, penned after the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers.
NCW puts the spotlight on chemistry, but in the classroom, it’s not always just about the chemistry.
More from the October 2016 Issue
Mary Saecker’s JCE 93.10 October 2016 Issue Highlights shares more articles from the issue, plus articles from JCE’s archives related to the NCW forensics theme. The XChange would also appreciate readers offering their take on any article from this or a past issue of the Journal. Start by submitting a request to contribute, explaining you’d like to contribute to the Especially JCE column. Questions? Contact us using the XChange’s contact form.