are now working hard to start another film about Dr. Marie Daly, who was the first African-American woman to get a Ph.D. in chemistry. Brown further commented about the need that exists for more materials about other underrepresented minorities, such as Hispanic and Native American chemists, and how useful it would be to have those materials available on the Internet.
Steve Lyons responded that one of the most rewarding things about the Julian project was having the chance, with the support of the Dreyfus Foundation, to go out and interview 60 people who knew Julian. Lyons and his team gathered information about Julian’s life and his scientific career that would have otherwise been lost, making it a very rewarding experience.
Lyons also agreed with Brown that her Daly project would be ideal for the Internet, because more and more teachers are looking online for educational materials. He said if she could help produce a series of short videos about African-American women in chemistry and African-Americans in other fields of science as well, they would be widely used. He cautioned that videos should be kept short though, because that is what most Internet users have grown accustomed to.
David Ucko commented about NSF funding. He encouraged those with good ideas to bring them to NSF. He said, “We can only fund things that we get proposals for. So I would encourage folks to develop proposals for informal science education in chemistry.”
Bill Carroll commented that one of the difficulties in chemistry is counterbalancing the negative images. For example, he said, “If you cure someone it is medicine, if you poison someone, it is chemistry. It is almost as though you have to undo that first.”
Lyons agreed and said the best way he sees to address the problem from the point of view of the media is to continually show how chemistry is used through the stories of individual people. Gradually, it will help people to see chemists in a different way. He said people generally have no idea what chemists actually do in their work, so it would be useful to provide stories of their lives as a series of videos on a television program or an online series of videos. His video about Dan Nocera is a good example of showing the story of a chemist, how Nocera set out working for 20 years to address the energy problem. A series of those kinds of examples would help people to see chemistry in a new and more positive way.
Mark Griep from the University of Nebraska asked about the use of chemical symbols and formulas in communicating chemistry to the public, such as the structure of physostigmine in the Percy Julian film.
Ucko responded that in a museum, visitors come from many different backgrounds. They range from people who know nothing about chemistry and would never recognize a chemical symbol at all, to others who are Ph.D. chemists, so there need to be varying degrees of content that support the experience. He suggested that chemical symbols not be the starting point for engaging the public. He said the symbol is often secondary to what the work of the chemist is really about, so it can be there at some point in the exhibit for those that would understand what it is or those who want to learn more.
Lyons added that it is different in television. In the Percy Julian documentary, the use of letter symbols for chemicals was avoided entirely. There was not a single frame in the entire film that showed a chemical formula. Instead of using symbols, they used a simple ball and stick illustration to help people understand the chemicals. An explanation was provided for the basic steroid structure of physostigmine and how it could be modified by adding and subtracting pieces on the end of the structure. It was a very important concept in understanding Julian’s work, and it was also simple enough for people to grasp. He explained how even if the audience did not understand the details, they could get the idea that the properties of molecule could be changed by adding different pieces in different places.