Chemists: Tell us your story
Dawit Tibebu has a way with trash. Visit his bench at Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University and you’ll find him crafting distilling flasks from discarded heat-tempered light bulbs and condensers made from hoses snaked through discarded and conjoined water bottles. With lab set ups built from discarded materials such as these, the chemistry student and his mentor Sileshi Yitbarek hope to help bring simple, hands-on chemistry experiments to regional and rural schools in Africa that can’t afford traditional lab equipment.
I heard Dawit’s story from Peter Mahaffy, a chemistry professor at King’s University College in Edmonton and chair of the IUPAC committee that helped make 2011 the International Year of Chemistry.
The International Year of Chemistry’s “success will be measured by how we engage the public,” Mahaffy told me over lunch last week. He had just landed in Boston to speak about the year-long celebration at the invitation of the American Chemical Society’s Northeastern section.
To capture the public’s attention, he argued, chemists need to tell more stories like Dawit’s. “Human stories--not stories of chemicals or substances--are what drive interest in the subject of chemistry,” he explained. “Those are the stories we need to be telling.”
I couldn’t agree more. Those are exactly the kind of the stories we’re trying to tell at C&EN. If you've got an inspiring human story of chemistry like Dawit's, please share it below.
Sileshi (left) and Dawit with the apparatus they've built. Photo by Peter Mahaffy.