Retired California chemistry professor honored for public outreach efforts

Note to journalists: Please report that this announcement was made at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

BOSTON, Aug. 22, 2018 — Steven Murov, Ph.D, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, California, is the recipient of the 2018 Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach from the American Chemical Society (ACS). He was honored at a ceremony here last night during ACS’ 256th National Meeting & Exposition.

Murov is being recognized for his efforts to educate children and adults about the wonders of science through free chemistry demonstrations and presentations conducted under the tutelage of his alter ego, “Dr. Al Chemist.”

“Our society is at a crucial time in history. We are highly dependent on the products of science, and yet the level of science literacy in our country is dismal,” Murov says. “As a result, I have started or been involved in many efforts to turn people on to science and emphasize how we must change our ways if we want our grandchildren to have quality lives.”

Murov began making chemistry presentations and organizing science programs in 1975. Since then, he estimates that more than 30,000 people have attended his public presentations. One such show was called “Flash, wobble and glop, or how to turn children on to science in 45 minutes.” His onstage persona evolved over the years, beginning when his wife Carolyn tie-dyed a lab coat and supplied a red wig for a character she dubbed “Dr. Al Chemist.”

“I do my best to demystify chemistry,” Murov says. “Usually for school groups I would take the wig off after several minutes and try to debunk the mad scientist stereotype common in movies.”

In addition, Murov has been director of the Modesto Area Partners in Science program; co-director of the Stanislaus County and the NorCal State Science Olympiads; and a science consultant for the Stanislaus County Office of Education. He also created a 21-station chemistry exhibit at the Great Valley Museum in Modesto.

Murov earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, and his doctorate at the University of Chicago. He was a professor at Modesto Junior College for 27 years and has been an ACS member for 56 years.

Established in 1995, the Helen M. Free Award recognizes outstanding achievements in public outreach. Free, a former ACS president, initiated many programs and activities designed to improve public awareness of chemistry’s contributions to the quality of daily life.

The American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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Steven Murov, Ph.D.
Credit: Carolyn Murov
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