Some kids have all the luck. How would you like to learn about chemistry from a chemist who is the president-elect of the world’s largest scientific society?
This is exactly what will happen Monday, Nov. 6, when Catherine T. Hunt, Ph.D., sets up shop in a classroom at Wissahickon Middle School in Ambler, Pa., a northwest suburb of Philadelphia. Hunt, who will take over as president of the American Chemical Society in January, will teach back-to-back classes all day, supplementing 7th grade science students’ exploration of the properties of matter, answering questions, and working with them on fun experiments.
Hunt’s “teacher-for-a-day” activities are part of an ongoing educational outreach program conducted by her employer, Rohm and Haas Company, through which professional scientists visit local classrooms to provide students and teachers with real-world, hands-on science instruction.
“One of my favorite things about science, and particularly chemistry, is the ability to see it in action, to demonstrate a theory with visual data,” Hunt says. “That’s why I’m stepping into the classroom next week. I can’t convince students that science can present a compelling career path for them. I have to show them!”
She adds that, “Though it’s become clichÉ to say today’s students are tomorrow’s scientists, technologists and policy makers, it’s the truth. And we can’t engage these students in the study and pursuit of careers in math and science by talking about it. It’s our responsibility as scientists, industrialists and public representatives to reach out to them, show them and personally deliver our message.”
In delivering the message about how chemistry plays a role in everyday life, Hunt will join students in a variety of experiments, including using baby diapers to show how super-absorbent polymers work and solving the mystery of Fortune Teller Fish that react to wetness and dryness. She also plans to demonstrate the chemistry of leather.
Hunt has been a champion of education in serving ACS and throughout her career at Rohm and Haas Company, located in Spring House, Pa., where she is Leader for Technology Partnerships (Emerging Technologies). She graduated from Smith College with honors in chemistry and received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Davis.
Hunt says that for the United States to maintain its competitive edge in the world’s marketplace, the nation’s science and math programs must be strengthened. But improving teacher training will require a major research effort with substantial resources, she points out.
ACS, also focusing on strengthening math and science education in the United States, has said that “recruitment and retention of teachers who are well prepared in science is of the highest priority for the future of our technology-based society. Elementary and middle school teachers need a firm grounding in physical, biological and earth/space sciences as well as an understanding of science education research.”