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Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach

The Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach recognizes outstanding achievements in the field of public outreach by a member of the ACS who improves public recognition and appreciation for the contributions of chemistry. This award was established in 1995 by the American Chemical Society Committee on Public Relations and Communications. Winners receive a crystal award and a $1000 prize.

Helen M. Free Award winner Lydia Hines
Lydia E. M. Hines is the 2020 winner of the Helen M. Free Award.
Courtesy of Lydia Hines

About Helen M. Free

When she assumed the presidency of the American Chemical Society in 1993, Dr. Helen M. Free pledged to initiate and support activities that would “improve the public’s awareness of chemistry’s contributions to the quality of daily life.”

This pledge grew out of her long-standing commitment to public outreach by chemists and chemical engineers. She participated in the establishment of Kids & Chemistry, a program in which scientists do hands-on activities with elementary school students. As chair of the National Chemistry Week Task Force (1987-1992), she shepherded ACS’s most successful public outreach program through its formative years. She helped originate and led the movement toward a worldwide International Chemistry Celebration in 1999, and was continued with the United Nations’ declaration of 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry.

Dr. Free gave countless talks on the importance of communicating science to the public, and she personally did more than 100 media interviews on the importance of chemistry to modern society. These contributions were milestones in her more than 50 year career as a clinical scientist—a career that was studded with honors and awards for professional excellence and service to her profession and the community-at-large. It is more than fitting that the annual Award for Public Outreach bears her name.

Dr. Free passed away in May 2021 at the age of 98. Read more about her life and storied career here

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For the purposes of this award, “public outreach” activities are defined as those that reach lay audiences, as opposed to science professionals. The award selection committee will consider such factors as the nominee’s personal advocacy and involvement in public outreach initiatives; development or expansions of ideas, materials, and/or resources for volunteer programs; and overall impact on the public. Qualifying activities include lectures, presentations, demonstrations, seminars, symposia, and exhibits; newspaper or magazine articles and interviews; radio and television appearances; and hands-on science activities with children and/or adults. Venues may include schools, libraries, churches, museums, parks, shopping malls, and other public places. Audiences may include civic, fraternal, religious, youth, and professional (non-science) groups. The activities may be local, national, or international.

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A nominee must be an ACS member in good standing whose efforts have increased the public’s awareness and understanding of the importance of chemistry or chemical engineering. The nominee must have made a major effort to reach the public with positive messages about the contributions of the chemical sciences to a better quality of life.

Nominees have usually performed public outreach for more than 5 years, and winners often have exhibited a lifetime commitment to public outreach. Prior nomination does not exclude a candidate for consideration in the subsequent years.

While a nominee may be professionally involved in public outreach (either self-employed or as an employee of a corporation or organization), the activities for which he or she is nominated must be performed without financial compensation.

Employees of the ACS are not eligible.

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Entries and Online Nomination Form

Nominations must be submitted using the Helen M Free nomination form. Nominations for the 2021 award are due by February 15, 2021.

Any individual may submit a nomination. Seconding letters are not necessary, and only those that contain factual information not provided in the nominating document will be transmitted to the Selection Committee. In no case should more than two such supporting letters be a part of a nomination.

Accompanying materials, such as the nominee’s resume and seconding letters, should be e-mailed by February 15, 2021, to

For more information, contact:
1-800-227-5558 x4384

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Selection Procedures and Award Presentation

Nominations are considered by the Awards Selection Subcommittee of the ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications. The decision of the Awards Selection Subcommittee is final. The winner is notified by mail in early July.

The award is presented annually at the ChemLuminary Awards, which is held each fall at the ACS National Meeting. Winners must agree to be present to receive their awards unless prevented by circumstances beyond their control. The ACS will provide complimentary travel and hotel accommodations of up to $1000 for the awardee and one guest (in addition to the $1000 prize for the awardee).

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Past Winners

Helen M. Free Award People
Frankie Wood-Black was presented with the 2019 Helen M. Free Award by CPRC Chair Amber Charlebois (left) and ACS President Bonnie Charpentier (right) at the 2019 ChemLuminary Awards ceremony in San Diego.
Scott Henrichsen Photography
Helen M. Free Award People
(L to R) CPRC Chair Jennifer Maclachlan and ACS President Peter Dorhout with Steven Murov, winner of the 2018 Helen M. Free Award, at the 2018 ChemLuminary Awards ceremony in Boston.
Peter Cutts Photography