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Highlights from the International Year of Chemistry

As the International Year of Chemistry comes to an end, it’s worth looking back on some of the amazing contests and events that took place. Many of them have left behind lasting resources that will be useful for decades to come.

The Future We Create
A group of 30 of the brightest minds in chemistry delivered lectures on problems that future generations will face, such as finding sustainable fuels or feedstocks, and ways that chemistry may be able to solve those problems.

Honors and Activities for Women in Science
This year, the Royal Society of Chemistry elected its first female president, and the cover of the September 2011 issue of Nature Chemistry featured a portrait of Marie Curie made from a mosaic of photographs of female scientists. And Future We Create hosted a remarkable virtual conference on the future of women’s roles in science.
Nature Chemistry Cover

YouTube Mania
Dow Chemical and The Franklin Institute created a series of videos called “Celebrating Chemistry.” The series features lots of experiments that kids can do at home.

The “It’s, Chemistry, Eh?” video contest motivated lots of students to make charming short films, including a great parody of Material girl.

Nearly 700 students submitted videos to the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s “It’s Elemental” contest.

A New Blog is Born
Inspired by the International Year of Chemistry, @sulfur_blue created a new blog called Everyday Chemistry in an attempt to generate enthusiasm for chemistry in the general public. Be sure to check out the list of chemistry-adapted movie titles.

Caring for Water
Thousands of students around the world built solar stills, tested the pH and salinity of their water, and learned about providing safe drinking water as part of the Global Water Experiment. Meanwhile, the American Chemical Society raised money for and awareness of the Pennies for PUR program, which provides packets of water purification chemicals to areas where they are needed.

Special Issues
In honor of the International Year of Chemistry, C&EN’s June 27 issue featured a collection of essays on the contributions of chemistry to humanity. Nature created an IYC website with dozens of articles about everything from research to careers.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the IYC activities that occurred over the last twelve months. Feel free to share in the comments any of your favorite activities that didn’t get a mention.

Jeopardy IYC Recap

I don’t think I’ve ever been as tuned into the TV game show Jeopardy as I was last night. It’s usually on in the background while I’m eating dinner. But last night was different. For weeks, I had known that this episode would be featuring questions related to the International Year of Chemistry.

I was eager to find out what questions would be asked … or in this case, what clues would be posed.

About halfway through the episode, and after a commercial break, host Alex Trebek introduces the categories for Double Jeopardy. The IYC logo pops up on the screen, and Trebek says, “This is the International Year of Chemistry, according to the U.N.” He then introduces the other categories: musical theater, papal bulls, writers’ relatives, what do you stand for, and nothing.

The contestants went straight for the musical theater clues. The minutes seemed to drag on, and most of the other categories had been completed, before one of the contestants, Jay Rhee, an oncologist from Annapolis, Md., finally tackles the first IYC clue for $1600, which turned out to be a Daily Double:

“Frederick Soddy came up with this term for atoms having the same nuclear charge but different masses.”

Rhee, who was up to $17,100 by this point, bet $100 and poses the question, “What are isotopes?”

“Isotopes is right,” said Trebek.

Rhee asked for a second IYC clue for $400:

“The celebratory year 2011 marks 100 years since this radiant scientist’s Nobel prize for chemistry,” said Trebek.

Rhee: Who is Curie?

Trebek: Be more specific.

Rhee: Who is Marie Curie?

Trebek: Yes!

After a break to tackle some of the other categories, Rhee came back to IYC and asked for the $2000 clue:

“A solid can be finely analyzed using the EELS technique, which studies energy loss in these particles.”

Buzzer (signaling no response). “Energy loss in the electrons,” Trebek offered.

Rhee asked for the $1200 IYC clue:

“A chemical known as an anhydride is one that removes this from substances.”

Contestant Julianne Moore, a mom and volunteer from Placentia, Calif., chimed in: “What is water?”


She asked for the next IYC clue for $800:

“You exhale this gas first identified by British scientist Joseph Black in the 1750s.”

Not one to be outdone, contestant Scott Goldstein, a director and writer of a sketch comedy theater from Chicago, Ill., asked, “What is carbon dioxide?”


And the IYC category was finished, with one clue left in the “Nothing” category.

Watch for yourself and let us know what you think about the chemistry clues posed and how the contestants did: http://www.chemistry2011.org/about-iyc/news/on-Jeopardy/

What is … the International Year of Chemistry?

Tune in to Jeopardy! next Monday, June 21, for some chemistry trivia. The episode will feature questions related to the International Year of Chemistry. We have no idea what topics will be featured, so you’ll just have to watch! For local air times, visit http://www.jeopardy.com and click on “when to watch.”

Let us know what you think of the contestants’ chemistry knowledge!

IYC Groom’s Cake

Analytical chemist George Ruger sent us these photos of an IYC-inspired groom’s cake that he had at his wedding earlier this year:

How are you celebrating IYC? Feel free to share your photos with us!

More IYC stamps

To celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, countries around the world are issuing commemorative stamps. Newscripts wrote about some of these stamps in the March 14th issue of C&EN. Since then, several more stamps have been issued:


Bosnia and Herzegovina



For more information on these stamps and to learn about new stamps being issued, visit the IYC Postage Stamp Central page on the IYC website.

Got Peeps?

Have some Peeps leftover from Easter and don’t know what to do with them? Peeps — you know, marshmallow gooeyness shaped like pastel chicks and bunnies?

ACS member Kathryn Hughes sent me this adorable photo of an IYC-themed Peep diorama that she; her husband Matthew Clarke, and friend Abigail Miller, created for the Washington Post’s fourth annual Peeps diorama contest. They affectionately named their diorama “International Peep of Chemistry.” Note the “Peepriodic Table of Elements” hanging on the back wall. And if you look real close, you can see safety glasses on each Peep — and the gas cylinder is strapped down …. and there’s an eye wash and a fire extinguisher, complete with inspection tags.

Even Peeps have to demonstrate prudent practices in the lab!

Hughes is a program officer with the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology. Clarke is a chemist at the National Gallery of Art. And Miller is a chemist at American University.

“It took all of our chemical know-how to pull it together,” said Hughes. But “sadly, our fabulous chemical creativity was not rewarded by even runner-up status.” Nevertheless, it did bring IYC to the attention of the Washington Post judges. The first place winner of the contest was a diorama depicting the October 2010 rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners.

Feel free to submit examples of how you are celebrating IYC in your community.

By the way, if you’re curious what these peeps are made of, read C&EN’s What’s That Stuff article on the chemistry of marshmallows.

Catch Nancy Jackson on National Public Radio

Tune in to National Public Radio at 8pm EDT on Mon., May 16th, and Mon., May 23, to hear ACS President Nancy Jackson talk about the International Year of Chemistry on the NPR show “The Best of Our Knowledge” with host Glenn Busby. Topics will include the central role that chemistry plays in our modern world, ACS’s chemistry ambassadors, science education, and mentoring in chemistry.

“The Best of Our Knowledge” features leading experts whose discoveries shape our ways of thinking and redefine our understanding of today’s knowledge-driven society.

The original broadcasts will air on the WAMC NPR network in the Northeastern U.S. The programs will be rebroadcast on WAMC network at 3pm on Fri., May 20, and Fri., May 27. Listeners can also tune in on the web at http://www.wamc.org/prog-tbook.html during these times.

NPR affiliate radio stations nationwide will broadcast the segments on Wed., May 18, and Wed., May 25. Check your local NPR affiliate for the program times. After the segments air, podcasts will be posted online at the WAMC website, and CDs can be ordered by calling (800) 323-9262.

IYC Weekly Round-up, 4/23-4/29

Here are some of the weekly happenings from this last week:

IYC Weekly Round-up, 3/26-4/1

Some of the IYC happenings from last week:

Overdue IYC Weekly Round-up

Sorry for missing last week, folks. To make up for it, this edition will include items from the last two weeks, 3/12-3/25:

  • Science magazine’s March 18th issue included an editorial from Harry Gray and Jay Labinger on chemistry as the “central” science.
  • The Chemical Institute of Canada’s YouTube video contest, “It’s Chemistry, Eh?,” launched in February and submissions are due by April 22. Yes, I slipped in an old item, but we weren’t up and running when the contest started…
  • Congratulations to inorganic electrochemist Lesley Yellowlees, who was elected the first female president of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Newscripts focused on commemorative chemistry stamps, including an image gallery, in the March 14th issue of C&EN.
  • World Water Day was March 22. ACS launched its Pennies for Pur Water campaign.

Stay tuned for IYC updates from the ACS national meeting in Anaheim next week.