43rd International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry World Chemistry Congress
Saturday, July 30 - Sunday, August 7, 2011
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Symposium on Chemistry and Culture

"Chemistry and Culture" Symposium
Monday, August 1, 2011

Creativity, passion and the urge for expression and exploration are essential human qualities
that inspire science, the arts, and the humanities, and thus constitute a common bond among them.
In this symposium we will explore, discuss, and cultivate the intellectual and emotional links between
science, the arts, and the humanities and focus on the effect culture has on the development of science
and how culture is affected by the chemical sciences.

Monday, August 1, 2011
Organized by Bassam Z. Shakhashiri
University of Wisconsin-Madison
2011 ACS President-Elect


Nancy B. Jackson, Sandia National Laboratories & 2011 ACS President
Amal Al-Aboudi, University of Jordan Dept. of Chemistry
10:35-11:00 a.m.

How chemistry, science and technology impacts culture
This will be a joint talk from a Native American perspective and a Jordanian perspective on the effect that chemistry, science, and technology have on culture. The talk will include how new inventions and technology both enhance important cultural values, such as communication, and diminish others, such as a strong relationship to a homeland. In the context of culture, also discussed will be the ethical considerations we as chemists and scientists should be conscious of as we develop new technologies and science in the future.

Liliana Mammino, University of Venda Dept. of Chemistry
11:05-11:30 a.m.

Chemical heritage in sub-Saharan Africa and its significance for chemical education
The nature of chemistry as the science of substances ensures the presence of chemical heritage components in all human communities, both in terms of practical usages and in terms of beliefs or interpretations about observed phenomena. Indigenous chemistry-related activities in Sub-Saharan Africa are numerous, including: a variety of household practices (e.g., the brewing of plant materials to produce traditional drinks); the production and use of paints and dies from naturally available materials; the production of metals from ores; and the broad diversity of the knowledge embedded in traditional medicine. While the last component is the object of intensive research throughout the continent, because of the importance of the search for new biologically active compounds that may be suitable for drug development, other components are often investigated less extensively. The paper highlights the expected benefits of the inclusion of information about the various components of indigenous chemical heritage into chemical education programs. By emphasizing connections between the meaning of chemistry and the learners' cultural roots, such inclusion is apt to foster familiarity perceptions that can facilitate the learners' approach to chemistry. The discussion is substantiated by a number of illustrative examples. The significance of the learners' active involvement in the investigation of the chemical heritage of their communities is given particular attention as an option in which the benefits of active learning are complemented by realistic perspectives of adding new information to the overall body of knowledge that forms the chemical heritage.

Michael Weisberg, University of Pennsylvania Dept. of Philosophy
11:35 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Why is There So Little Chemistry in Our Culture?
Chemists often aim to enhance the public's understanding and appreciation of chemistry. For example, one of IUPAC's strategic goals is to increase "the worldwide understanding and application of the chemical sciences, to the betterment of the human condition." This turns out to be no easy task. Despite nearly universal chemical education for university-bound students, the public's appreciation of the content, methods, and impacts of chemistry remains limited at best. Moreover, recent psychological research has documented very limited correlation between acceptance and understanding of scientific ideas. This talk will review what we know about the cognitive correlates of science acceptance, and outline several approaches to overcoming barriers that prevent a much wider appreciation of chemistry in our culture.

View his presentation (9.95 MB PDF)

Deborah L. Blum, University of Wisconsin-Madison Dept. of Journalism & Mass Communication
12:05-12:30 p.m.

Poison and Prohibition: How jazz-age chemistry changed American culture
During the 1920s, chemistry was in many ways the most influential science in the United States. The federal government turned to chemists to help enforce the 18th Amendment and the national ban on trafficking in alcohol, leading bootleggers to hire their own chemists in attempt to render innocuous government alterations to alcohol. The resulting clash was described widely in newspapers of the time, as "The Chemists' War". At the same time, a new generation of forensic chemists was being trained, both to help with poison homicides and to help regulate the rising tide of new industrial chemicals. The toxicologists of the 1920s were both investigators and crusaders - bitterly opposed, for instance, to federal tainting of alcohol - and their work helped create the CSI-style criminal justice work of today and shaped the way citizens thought about navigating our chemical world.


Daniel Rabinovich, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Dept. of Chemistry
2:00-2:25 p.m.

Hydrogen to copernicium: Postage stamps as cultural icons in the IYC
Postage stamps constitute a simple yet effective means of communication, often used by governments or postal authorities to inform the general public on a variety of topics, including history, geography, literature and the arts. A surprisingly large number of stamps have also been issued to commemorate scientific discoveries or to honor well-known scientists. Significantly, postage stamps can also be used as engaging teaching tools in the classroom, to illustrate and enliven technical presentations or, as a matter of fact, to celebrate special events such as the International Year of Chemistry (2011). This talk will feature postage stamps and other philatelic materials pertaining to the history of chemistry, the discovery and sources of the elements, chemical structures and formulas, laboratory equipment, biochemistry, and various aspects of the chemical industrial. Furthermore, an overview of recent stamps dedicated to the IYC and the centennial of Marie Curie's Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be presented.

View his presentation (10.4 MB PDF)

Peter Atkins, Lincoln College, University of Oxford
2:30-2:55 p.m.

The limitless power of science
Humanity should be proud of the fact that, through its collective endeavour, it has stumbled on to a way of discovering reliable knowledge about the nature, composition, and functioning of the universe. The question remains, however, whether its contribution to human understanding is boundless. I shall identify the great questions of existence that have been the focus of myth−making since mankind first sought to make sense of nature, and argue that the scientific method is capable of answering them all. Of course, it is necessary to distinguish the empty questions from the real, and it is important not to be distracted by questions that have simply been invented by philosophers and theologians. The essential point is that science is driven by optimism, and its current success encourages us to believe that it will resolve the question of the origin of the universe and the emergence of that most extraordinary property of matter, consciousness, just as it has revealed the process by which the biosphere has emerged and as it has illuminated the processes of birth and death. I shall argue that its power is limitless and that, through displacing poetic and vivid myths, it succeeds in deepening our wonder.

Roald Hoffmann, Cornell University Dept. of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
3:00-3:25 p.m.

Protochemistries are the bridge
People did chemistry, darn good chemistry too, before there were ever chemists. In winning metals from their ores, making food, cosmetics, medicines, containers, tanning leather, dyes and jewelry, craftsmen and women in every culture came up with some superb experimental chemistry. Their stories of protochemistry, some of which I will retell, to this day form a natural bridge between chemists and nonchemists, between chemistry and culture.

Theodore Gray, Wolfram Research Inc., Director of User Interfaces
3:50-4:15 p.m.

Beautiful and true: Art and science, both stronger together
It's a false god, the notion that art and science, the pursuit of the beautiful and the pursuit of the true, should be such strangers to each other. Art without truth is bad art, and science without beauty is bad science. People who talk like this are usually artists knocking at the door of science claiming to be relevant. But it works the other way too: much art could be improved with a better understanding of science, and the best work in both fields is usually done by those with an appreciation for the value of the other.

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, University of Wisconsin-Madison Dept. of Chemistry
& 2011 ACS President-Elect

4:20-4:45 p.m.

On science literacy and culture
Society makes progress in addressing critical issues by having both a creative, skilled productive work force and a citizenry able to judge the risks and enjoy the benefits of advances in science and technology.  The world is increasingly dependent on science and technology and that is why it is essential that all citizens gain science literacy. By science literacy I mean an appreciation of science, an understanding of the benefits of technology, and the potential risks associated with advances in both. It is important to make a distinction between science literacy and scientific competence or scientific expertise when we discuss what science is capable of achieving and what it cannot accomplish.  Achieving science literacy is necessary for the democratic process to work; to enable people to make informed choices, allowing us to be skeptical, to reject shams, quackery, unproven conjecture, and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned. The level of science literacy in any society is a measure of its values. Science literacy is for everyone: scientists, artists, humanists, all professionals, the general public, youth and adults alike. Science literacy can enhance our daily lives in many ways.  Science literacy is an attitude and a way of life for individuals, groups, and societies. I shall discuss cultural barriers and opportunities to achieving science literacy in modern society and use examples from two of the strongest forces in society: science and religion.