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National Chemistry Week in Edmonton.

National Chemistry Week in Edmonton

The Edmonton Local Section of the Chemical Institute of Canada celebrated National Chemistry Week for the first time in 1989. These activities were very successful; the executive became very interested in future NCWs and local members had tremendous enthusiasm for NCW 1990. A sub-committee consisting of Yvon Theriault, MCIC (Chairman), Nancy Cyr, MCIC, Sunil Chaudhary, MCIC, and Mervyn Lynch was formed in November of 1989. The rest of the executive offered help on an |as needed' basis or on special assignments. This subcommittee was later extended by a few more enthusiastic members. Roger Cowles, MCIC, Cindy Rothwell, MCIC, Guy Angoh, MCIC and Kara Rosenquist, MCIC, played important roles in the organization of 1990 National Chemistry Week activities. This was a true team effort where each member of the executive contributed towards the success of NCW and was assigned specific duties. It was not very difficult to build on the success of the previous year's activities. The committee had input from various 1989 participants and tried to incorporate suggestions made after the events for the future activities. The industrial tours, the magic show were very popular and decision was made to continue with these activities.

A History of National Chemistry Week

National Chemistry Week was first started in Australia in 1982, then taken up by the United States. The American Chemical Society sponsored National Chemistry Day, then National Chemistry Week. Various activities were organized by ACS local sections. The Chemical Institute of Canada started in 1989 and the reports indicated it was a worthwhile effort.

The purpose of the National Chemistry Week, or related activities, is to fight chemophobia among the general public and the negative image of chemistry posed by the media. Chemistry is not a fearful word, it brings many benefits to society. The purpose of NCW was to tell the public of the many benefits chemistry brings to our society.


In Edmonton, the National Chemistry Week subcommittee met on January 20, 1990, and brain-stormed about the audience which we wanted to reach. Our objective during NCW 1990 was to promote the awareness of chemistry in particular, and science in general, among the public at large. The public participation in various activities will increase the awareness and improve the appreciation for the benefits of chemistry. The Local Section identified several routes to accomplish these objectives and responsibilities were assigned. The activities were organized to keep the audience in mind. For example, the direct appeal to the public was achieved through a public lecture and media involvement; students were reached through the educational system. Professionals and general public were reached through plant tours and industry open houses. The sub-committee met at monthly intervals, various responsibilities were assigned and progress was reviewed. The basic structure was in place by March. The biggest hurdle was the uncertainty of fund raising. The Canadian Society for Chemistry committed funds ($2,000) in August and only then final commitments were made. Local industry and chemical institutions were very supportive of the NCW effort and provided financial sponsorships for activities. The section managed to raise enough funds (some $3,500 including CSC's contribution) that this event became financially self-sufficient. The financial sponsors for 1990 NCW were: Alberta Special waste Management Co., AT Plastics, B.F.Goodrich, Canox, Celanese Canada, Chembiomed, The Canadian Society for Chemistry, City of Edmonton, Dow Chemical Canada Inc, DuPont Canada, Edmonton Catholic Schools, Inland Cement, Norwest Laboratories, Raylo Chemicals, Syncrude Research and Synphar Laboratories.


Publicity was next big hurdle. The big question was how to reach the public? In the past we were not able to attract the media. This year too, the media was approached but with very limited success. The media in general showed no interest in chemistry-related activities. The Local Section produced a pamphlet which was circulated to various industries, libraries, schools, organizations. About 2,000 pamphlets were distributed, highlighting the past year's comments from the public and this year's activities, along with contact telephone numbers. National Chemistry Week activities were advertised on various community newspapers, organizations newsletters and a paid advertisement in The Edmonton Journal. CBC Radio interviewed our public speaker Joe Schwarcz. The Edmonton section CIC Infoline (403-479-XRAY) was very helpful in providing information regarding our programmes and accepting reservations for various activities. The section also designed its own poster which was displayed all around the city. Kay Simpson, MCIC, editor of Infochem, newsletter of the CIC, the CSChE and the CSCT in Edmonton, published a special issue dedicated to National Chemistry Week.

NCW Activities

It all started in Edmonton a day earlier than most of the country. The |Magic of Chemistry' show was performed by the well-known trio from Montreal, Joe Schwarcz, Ariel Fenster, MCIC, and David Harpp, FCIC, on October 13, 1990 at Harry Ainley High School in Edmonton. They performed two shows and attracted appreciable audience consisting of future young chemists, children, adults and professionals. Everyone was well-entertained. Margaret-Ann Armour, FCIC, wrote following report for National Chemistry Week Magic Show:

The Magic of Chemistry

"In magic, they try to hide the explanation; in science, they look for the explanation", so said Schwarcz as he introduced the |Magic of Chemistry' show which he, Fenster and Harpp presented to launch Edmonton's National Chemistry Week programme. The show had both chemistry and magic; from bangs and flashes to oscillating reactions which changed colour in time with the William Tell overture; from silk scarfs appearing endlessly out of bottles to white rabbits coming out of top hats.

It was 15 years ago that the trio from Vanier College and McGill University developed the show to bring chemistry to the public. This, and many other lecture series and media events which they have developed since, has resulted in awards for chemical education in both the United States and Canada. The two performances they presented October 13 in the theatre at Harry Ainley School attracted over 200 people each.

They explained both some of the magic and some of the chemistry. We were shown how a string of silk scarfs could change colour with a flick of the wrist, and the rabbit which had looked so real turned out to be a puppet. We were informed about the chemicals being mixed to yield the rope of nylon, and the mystery of Moses being able to sweeten the bitter waters of Marah was described as the first titration with wood. But many reactions were left unexplained (some chemists in the audience probably figured them out). There was a book which caught fire when it was opened, yet was not blackened, the red wine which could be converted either to white wine or into milk and then beer. Edmonton's water was turned into a jelly-like solid and a detergent box turned into a magic washing machine which removed all stains from the dirty linen placed into it.

We saw, or were told about, some of the chemical reactions going on all around the original inhabitants of earth. There were geysers (this was resulted from adding magnesium to hydrogen peroxide solution) and volcanos, and soap was formed from the fat of roasting animals dripping onto the lye present in the ashes of the fire. Background music and often amusing lap-dissolved slides were used effectively throughout the colourful and professional show.

NCW Public Lecture

The public lecture on |Food Additives' was given by Schwarcz at the Edmonton Convention Centre on October 14. National Chemistry Week was officially opened by the Honorable Fred Stewart, Alberta Minister of Technology, Research and Telecommunications. Among many distinguished guests, was Arthur Carty, FCIC, President of the CSC. Roger Cowles, MCIC, has filed the following report.

The Public Lecture

It was preceded by the opening of National Chemistry Week by Stewart, the provincial technology minister. In addition, Society President Carty delivered a message from the CSC. Both speakers emphasized the need for public education to improve the understanding of science and technology. Also, they stated that much needs to be done to give school students a greater enthusiasm for science.

Schwarcz gave an excellent presentation on the chemicals in our food; the talk was both entertaining and educational. The main theme was that with some chemical knowledge, the public can make informed decisions about the food they eat. We were reminded that |natural' foods are made up of chemicals and that when evaluating the effect of chemicals, a dose/response relationship has to be considered. In general, the chemical additives in food are harmless and most of them, for example antimicrobial agents, serve as a useful purpose and help to make our food safer. It is a reflection of our society that we are worried about additives in our food when a large proportion of world's population is concerned about from where their next meal is coming from. We should be concerned about amount of sugar, salt and fat in our diets.

Sulphites are the only food additives that have been conclusively linked with human death. Asthmatics can react severely to sulphites and problems occur when this additive is not disclosed because it has been used as a |secondary' ingredient. The practice of routinely |sulphiting' salad bars is no longer allowed. Some additives are safer than their natural counterparts. Smoked flavoured extract does not contain the carcinogens present in the natural smoking process.

NCW Plant Tours and Open Houses

Edmonton is very rich in diversity of chemical professionals. We have big base of chemical industry, government laboratories, an excellent university, technical schools and educational system. This was reflected in our programmes. Each day during NCW there were two or three plant tours or open houses. Various industries opened their doors for the general public to explain that industries are not a big monsters behind the fence. They explained the |Responsible Care Programme', commitment and concern for environment and safety, community participation. Most tours were very informative and open. They displayed state of the art equipment and research facilities. The university tours included visit to various laboratories. Armour explained the role of these laboratories using an example of an active drug made from chemicals extracted from sponge. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology shared with the public the variety of programmes and facilities this institution offers to students. Following industries, laboratories and institutions opened their doors during National Chemistry Week 1990: Dow Chemical Canada Inc, Chemex laboratories, Chembiomed, Synphar Laboratories, Inland Cement, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Northern Forestry Research Laboratory, Sherritt Gordon Mines Ltd., Alberta Agriculture Food Labs, Raylo Chemicals, Esso Petroleum Canada, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, University of Alberta Chemistry Department and Celanese Canada.

NCW School Programme

One goal of the Edmonton Local Section is to promote participation from school students and teachers. NCW was no exception. Mervyn Lynch, Edmonton Catholic School District, and Natalie Deptuck from Harry Ainley High School helped in organizing school activities entitled |Have you ever wondered about?'. On October 15, Schwarcz, Harpp and Fenster went to three high-schools and answered queries such as: why does popcorn pop? why are there holes in Swiss cheese? why would vampires fear garlic? etc. The students were both entertained and educated. They came out quite positive chemistry is not a mysterious subject: it is fun to learn and very interesting.

Next Year

Overall, National Chemistry Week in Edmonton was a big success. Of course, there were few disappointments like failure to attract the media, thinner-than-anticipated attendance at the public lecture. The section already has had a meeting where how to improve on problem areas in future were discussed. Recommendations are being completed for next year's National Chemistry Week subcommittee. We already have 1991 sub-committee chairperson, Kara Rosenquist. Good luck Kara!


The authors would like to acknowledge help of each member of the executive and our financial sponsors for the overall success of 1990 National Chemistry Week in Edmonton.

PHOTO : From left to right, Joe Schwarcz, David Harpp, FCIC, and Ariel Fenster, MCIC, during |Magic of Chemistry' show in Edmonton.

PHOTO : Roger Cowles, MCIC, Yvan Theriault, MCIC, Nancy Cyr, MCIC and Joe Schwarcz during the |Magic of Chemistry' show in Edmonton.

PHOTO : CSC President Arthur Carty, FCIC, delivers a message from the Canadian Society for Chemistry during NCW in Edmonton.

PHOTO : Nancy Cyr, MCIC, and Roger Cowles, MCIC, are holding up NCW poster used during the week's activities in Edmonton.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Edmonton Local Section of the Chemical Institute of Canada's first celebration of National Chemistry Week
Author:Chaudhary, Sunil; Cyr, Nancy
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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