DENVER, Aug. 24, 2011 —The road to a Nobel Prize began for one scientist in elementary school when his father placed a sign on his bedroom door proclaiming him to be a “doctor.” For another Nobel laureate, it was a childhood breakfast with the famous scientist (and Nobelist) Linus Pauling. Another noted researcher went against all expectations of her day to pursue science in school, even though she was a woman. Yet another took inspiration from a yellow sweater knitted by his mother.
Those are among the experiences that helped launch the careers of scientists from diverse backgrounds who are featured in a new video series launched today by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. Titled Spellbound: How Kids Became Scientists, its debut coincides with the ACS’ 242nd National Meeting & Exposition in Denver and is part of the Society’s observance of the International Year of Chemistry. Rich with high-definition graphics, animations and commentary suitable for classroom use and other audiences of students and non-scientists, the videos are available without charge at the Spellbound website, the ACS Video Theater on YouTube, on iTunes and on DVD by request.
ACS encourages educators, schools, museums, science centers, news organizations and others to embed links to Spellbound on their websites.
Spellbound’s origins lie in the International Year of Chemistry, which celebrates, among other topics, the life of Marie Curie and one of Curie’s astute observations about life as a scientist. “A scientist in the laboratory,” Curie said, “is like a child placed before natural phenomena which impress like a fairy tale.” Curie was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes (in 1903 and 1911), and she won them for research on radioactivity.
The videos tell the story of scientists whose childhood curiosity about everyday things — Curie’s “natural phenomena” — enchanted like a fairy tale. It helped them launch careers in laboratories, win Nobel Prizes and make other notable achievements.
“We face concerns today about how to encourage children from diverse backgrounds into careers in the ‘STEM’ fields,” noted ACS President Nancy B. Jackson. “That’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The scientists in Spellbound are from diverse backgrounds. Their curiosity, mentors, role models and other early childhood experiences may point to approaches that can be used today and tomorrow in encouraging young people into science.”
Spellbound’s launch episode features the story of Ahmed Zewail, Ph.D., winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Zewail is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology. He pioneered femtosecond chemistry, the study of ultrafast chemical processes that occur in a millionth of a billionth of a second. The video describes Zewail’s supportive family, who encouraged his curiosity. They even went as far as hanging a sign on his door that said, “Dr. Ahmed,” when he was still a studious young child.
Other scientists featured in upcoming Spellbound episodes are listed below: