Vol. 25 No. 6
It was just another day at school for Rikako, who is 10 years old and lives in Japan. With her colorful clothes, her lunch bag packed with snacks and fruit, she went about her day, most likely without thinking much about the world around her.
But for that day’s activity, Rikako’s teacher planned for the students to draw and paint on a subject that is all around them: chemistry. “Why chemistry?” the students probably thought. The teacher explained to them that there was a poster contest on the theme of “It’s a chemical world.” “Have you ever thought that we live in a chemical world?” the teacher asked. “How much chemistry do you think is going into the materials around you, the plastics and paints, into the medicines, into the fuel used to generate energy, into the food and the preservatives?” Without saying more, the teacher let them come forward with ideas that reflected how they perceived the world around them, and how chemistry affected it.
Rikako and her schoolmates were not alone as they scratched their chins while thinking of something to draw. Last spring, about 400 young students from around the world submitted works to the poster contest initiated by IUPAC and managed in collaboration with Science Across the World (SAW). The children were not all as young as Rikako; in fact, the contest called for students as old as 16.
This initiative of the IUPAC Subcommittee on the Public Understanding of Chemistry (PUC) benefited from the energy and enthusiasm of its chairman Peter Mahaffy and member Lida Shoen. The effort was driven by the conviction that if the chemistry community is to improve its image and popularity, the discipline itself must help the public to understand what it does and how it contributes to everyone’s everyday life. Therefore, PUC wanted to start by learning how young people perceive living in a chemical world. A poster contest seemed a perfect fit, and with the support of SAW and the help of Kathy Darvesh from the Canadian Society for Chemistry, they pulled off an amazing display of about 25 posters during the IUPAC Congress in Ottawa in August 2003.
those who missed the display in Ottawa, we offer a few pages
in this issue to show the 10 winning entries (in
print p. 4). Rikako, the youngest winner, recognized
that chemistry is in the dyes of her dress and the drugs and
food that make her healthy. But to the eyes of others, chemistry
is also part of the problem; for example, using and abusing
nature by producing non-recyclable plastics and chemicals
that deplete the ozone layer and make acid rain. Now that
we have the posters before us, it is for us adults to think
about our message to the youth of this world. A few among
them will be tomorrow’s chemists, but we need to convince
more than a few that science and chemistry are keys to making
this world a better place to live.
last modified 4 November 2003.
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