Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach

Award at a Glance

Recipient Industry, K-12 Teacher, Faculty, Chemistry Professional, Volunteer
Category Public Service & Outreach,  Community Recognition
DeadlineFebruary 15, 2024


To recognize outstanding volunteer 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 annual award was established in 1995 by the American Chemical Society's Committee on Public Relations and Communications. Winners receive a crystal award and a $1,000 prize.

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 volunteer 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 intended for the public; 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, places of worship, 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.


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 volunteer public outreach for more than 5 years, and winners often have exhibited a lifetime commitment to volunteer public outreach. Prior nomination does not exclude a candidate for consideration in 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 volunteer activities for which he or she is nominated must be performed without financial compensation (i.e., not as part of their job).

Employees of the ACS are not eligible.


February 15

How to Nominate

Nominations must be submitted using the Helen M. Free nomination form as a single file in PDF format. Nominations for the 2024 award are due by 11:59 pm on February 15, 2024.

Any individual may submit a nomination; self-nominations will be accepted from those who meet the eligibility criteria listed above. Nominations should include one or two seconding letters. Nominations should be e-mailed by 11:59 pm on February 15, 2024, to HMFreeAward@acs.org. If you don't receive a confirmation of receipt within a week of submitting a nomination, please follow up by email or phone.

Judging Process

Nominations are reviewed by the Awards Working Group of the ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications. Nominations remain eligible for consideration for three years.

The award is presented annually at the ChemLuminary Awards ceremony, which is typically held in the fall. Winners must agree to be present to receive their awards unless prevented by circumstances beyond their control. The ACS provides complimentary travel and hotel accommodations of up to $2,000 for the awardee and one guest (in addition to the $1,000 prize for the awardee).


The winner is notified by email in early July.


ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications


When she assumed the presidency of the American Chemical Society in 1993, 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 a champion of the United Nations’ declaration of 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry.

Ms. 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.

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

Contact Information

Email: HMFreeAward@acs.org
Phone: 1-800-227-5558 x4384

two men and a woman on stage with a trophy
R. J. Dwayne Miller was presented with the 2023 Helen M. Free Award by CPRC Chair Preston MacDougall (left) and ACS President Judith Giordan (right) at the 2023 ChemLuminary Awards ceremony in San Francisco.
photo of a man and two women
CPRC Chair Preston MacDougall (left) and ACS President Angela Wilson (right) with Chemical Kim, winner of the 2022 Helen M. Free Award, at the 2022 ChemLuminary Awards ceremony in Chicago.
photo of woman
Jennifer Maclachlan won the 2021 Helen M. Free Award.
Courtesy of Jennifer Maclachlan

Related Opportunities

  • Outreach Volunteer of the Year Award Recognizing the immeasurable efforts made by ACS local section and international chapter volunteers who conduct outreach and teach the public about chemistry.

  • Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award Providing national recognition for ACS student chapters who have shown outstanding commitment to incorporating green chemistry into their annual activities.

  • ChemLuminary Awards Recognizing ACS Local Sections, Technical Divisions, Regional Meetings, and International Chemical Sciences Chapters for their work in promoting chemistry.

  • National Chemical Technician Award Honoring excellence and professionalism among technicians, operators, analysts and other applied chemical technology professionals.