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Chemistry at the movies. (Articles).

Getting good attendance at student chemical society meetings is not always easy -- particularly at a small institution like ours. There are so many other demands on students, such as upcoming tests to study for, that there has to be something special to attract students to a chemistry meeting. Movies are always popular, so we thought of bringing in true-story, chemical-related movies but preceding each one with a short lecture (10-15 minutes maximum) on the relevant chemistry. That way we could provide an entertaining evening together with some serious educational value.

The potential movies that we have discovered so far, together with possible lecture topics, are:

A Civil Action (1998) starring John Travolta. A gripping account of the alleged death of children in Woburn, Massachusetts as a result of pollution of a river. The movie is somewhat light on the chemistry but exposes how politics, power, and money can overwhelm fact. Preceding lecture on water pollution.

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) starring Edward G. Robinson. Outstanding chronicle of the German chemist who developed an arsenic compound to combat venereal disease and, in the process, founded chemotherapy. Preceding lecture on chemotherapy or on applications of arsenic compounds.

Erin Brockovich (2000) starring Julia Roberts. The poisoning of a small California town by chromium(VI) leaking from an industrial plant. Roberts, who received an Oscar for her role, plays. the legal assistant who unearths the evidence. Preceding lecture on chromium in health and disease.

Madame Curie (1943) starring Greer Carson. A romanticized and sanitized version of Marie Curie's studies on radioactivity and her co-discovery of radium. Well worth seeing for showing how chemical research was performed in those early days. Preceding lecture on women chemist Nobelists and should-have-been Nobelists.

Silkwood (1983) starring Meryl Streep. Superb depiction of life at a nuclear processing plant in the U.S. where profits and productivity were put ahead of worker safety. Preceding lecture on nuclear power plants and the processing of nuclear waste.

The Young Poisoner's Handbook (1995). An account of the British psychopathic teenager who experimented with thallium poisoning on his family and workmates. A "gleefully gruesome black comedy" -- not for the squeamish. Preceding lecture on similarities of potassium and thallium(I) chemistry.

We would be delighted to hear from readers as to other true-story chemical-related movies that they can recommend.

Christina Smeaton

President, Grenfell College Student

Chemistry Society

Geoff Rayner-Canham, FCIC
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Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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