National Chemistry Week is Coming

Science-based detective shows are proven crowd-pleasers. As a child in the late 1970s I remember the intrigue of Quincy, M.E., a medical examiner, or forensic pathologist, who examined the victims of fatal crimes and used science to pinpoint each week’s murderer. More recently shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NCIS and a host of other dramas have piggybacked on the concept of using science to solve crimes. So this year’s National Chemistry Week theme, Solving Mysteries through Chemistry, is sure to be a hit.

National Chemistry Week

National Chemistry Week is designed put chemistry in the spotlight. As a science teacher, no doubt chemistry is a frequent topic in your class. But the week of October 16 -22 is really an ideal time to help it shine, or should I say, phosphoresce?

The American Chemical Society (ACS), sponsor of National Chemistry Week, has a variety of materials available for students in elementary school through high school. These materials can help young scientists to solve mysteries and generally to learn more about chemistry. In particular, ACS provides standards-aligned materials (some in Spanish as well as English) to help students understand how chemistry helps with fingerprinting, DNA analysis, and how to identify art forgeries.

Years ago I met an elderly man whose job was to detect fine art forgeries. He was well-versed on the work of famous European artists, their preferred painting materials, methods, and styles. Over the course of his career he had authenticated many paintings and prevented many clients from spending large sums of money of copycat artwork. But his methods were rather low tech. Modern dating and analysis techniques rely on chemistry as well as technology that makes the scientific knowledge easier to put into action.

ACS has an intriguing video that explains how chemistry can detect forgeries. The video runs less than seven minutes. Maybe you can convince a colleague in the Art (or History) department to show this during National Chemistry Week? I was fascinated by the minute quantity of paint used in the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) to date the Jackson Pollock look-alikes. FITR creates a molecular fingerprint of the materials it samples. 

Speaking of Fingerprints

It’s common knowledge that people have unique fingerprints that can be used to trace a crime back to a sloppy crook. However, ACS features another video, less than two minutes long, that highlights research to help forensic specialists determine the timing of when fingerprints were left on an object. This can help investigators understand the timeline of a crime and help place potential suspects at the scene, or possibly help strengthen an innocent person’s alibi. Take a look.

Chemistry All Year Long

ACS has a variety of short videos available on their Byte Size Science YouTube channel that are great for when you have just a few extra minutes to fill.

In just a few weeks, America’s Top Young Scientist of 2016 will be named. It’s never too early for for young scientists to start sleuthing around for the great idea that could lead them to earn the prestigious title in 2017!