Today sees the start of Chemistry Week, the Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC's) biennial celebration of all things molecular. The theme of this year's happening is Chemistry in our Community, and with nearly 100 events taking place across the UK and Ireland, it's likely that you will be seeing some kind of Chemistry Week activity in your own local community. And what a lot there is to choose from. Chemistry Week events include 'whizz-bang' demonstration lectures in schools and colleges, interactive science shows, chemistry buses, and art exhibitions. The Science Museum in London, @Bristol, and other museums and hands-on science centres are arranging special activities for Chemistry Week.
But not all Chemistry Week events are run by professionals. In fact, the week relies for its success on the voluntary efforts of the RSC's local sections, which are organising many of the events.
Altruistic individuals they may be, but these chemists also know that there are career development opportunities to be had through volunteering. Science communication and educational outreach are popular career choices for scientists keen to use their scientific training away from the bench. One of the best ways to break into this competitive field is to take part in local outreach activities and to volunteer to organise them. Even those dedicated to a research career can find getting out and talking to school children and the public will boost their enthusiasm and be a really rewarding experience.
Catch Up on Your Reading
All 22 Royal Society of Chemistry electronic-only and online science journals will be available free from the RSC Web site during Chemistry Week 2001. Visitors will be able to access papers and communications from journals such as Chemical Communications, the Journal of Chemical Research, and Lab on a Chip.
Melanie Ropic, a second-year PhD student at the University of Hull, got involved with Chemistry Week because she is the secretary of the RSC's North Humberside section. She's booked a forensic science show, No Place to Hide, which is being put on by Science Line around the country. "Forensic lectures are always popular," Ropic explains, "so we thought it would be a good event to draw in the crowds." It certainly seems to have attracted lots of interest from the citizens of Hull who have been calling to book tickets.
Meanwhile at Sheffield Hallam University, lecturer Alan Hewson will be putting on his popular Spectroscopic Techniques problem-solving workshop for A-level students. Although students at this level learn the basics of techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectroscopy in school, "they don't have the advantage of using instruments," Hewson points out. By coming into the university they get to see the real thing, and they're given "a couple of unknown compounds which they have to identify." Working out a successful event formula that you can simply repeat is a great boon to the busy scientist, and "the teachers keep coming back" with new groups of students, showing that they see the benefit to their charges.
Nicky Arnold, too, has found that the effort put into initial preparation can be repaid by repeat bookings. A chemist at the Novartis Respiratory Research Centre in Horsham, Nicky works on scale up, turning 1-gram reactions into processes that yield up to 100 grams of compound. "I used to absolutely hate [public speaking]" she says, but having found herself volunteered to give a careers talk at Surrey University, she was "really chuffed" to be asked by a couple of sixth-form teachers in the audience to give her talk again. For Chemistry Week, Nicky will be compèring a Novartis-hosted event called Look What Chemistry Has Done for Me! on 20 November, during which a number of chemists who now work in very different areas will talk about their careers. Although aimed at sixth formers and undergrads, the event is open to all comers and would be a great way to find out more about industry careers if you're in the Horsham area. *
Name an Element
Following its success during Chemistry Week 1999, the 'Name-an-Element' competition makes a reappearance. How about Bondium, which has the proton number 007 and the symbol Jb. The Jb atom moves quickly even when under intense pressure. Often shaken, but never stirred, Bondium is usually found in close association with another rather obscure atom, Ladyum.
There are two age groups--over 16s and under 16s--and each entrant may enter up to five element names. Full details of the competition may be found on the Web site. But hurry: The closing date for entries is Friday 23 November 2001!
All three Chemistry Week volunteers have found personal benefits to taking part in outreach activities. Hewson finds that it helps with his undergraduate teaching because "it makes me aware of what the typical A-level student knows," and in a climate when applications to chemistry degree courses are falling, it also "scores Brownie points" in the department. "The experience will be useful for my CV and job applications," thinks Ropic, since her involvement will help her demonstrate her initiative and leadership skills and "I may have something interesting to write about!" And Arnold has found that her volunteer activities have boosted her confidence to the point where at work she is "quite happy to voice my opinion now."
It might be too late to volunteer for any of this year's Chemistry Week events, but why not find out what's happening in your area and go along anyway? It will give you the chance to meet some chemists you may not have come across before and find out how other people present their science to a lay audience.
* Booking by lunchtime on Tuesday 20 November is essential. Call Nicky Arnold (01403 323734) or Julia Hatto (01403 323353) to find out more.