Ready for the International Year of the Periodic Table?

The year 2019 is going to be a big one for chemistry! The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT) in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev’s arrangement of the chemical elements. In addition, according to the UNESCO proclamation of IYPT, “the year 2019 coincides with the anniversaries of a series of important milestones in the history of the periodic table, specifically with the isolation of arsenic and antimony by Jabir ibn Hayyan circa 1200 years ago; the discovery of phosphorus 350 years ago; the publication of a list of 33 chemical elements grouped into gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths by Lavoisier in 1789; the discovery of the Law of Triads in 1829 by Döbereiner; the establishment of the periodic table by Mendeleev 150 years ago; and the discovery of francium by Marguerite Perey in 1939.”

With an expected flurry of activities by many groups around the world, ACS student chapters have a great opportunity to plan ahead and to collaborate with local, regional, and international chapters.

1. Put your networks to work

Great things happen when individuals and organizations come together for a good cause. You can accomplish much more with less work by teaming up with students in other organizations, faculty members, your ACS local section, regional scientists, and museums, and other scientific organizations in your area.

2. Choose a theme

Zeroing in on specific topics can help you plan activities more efficiently and thoroughly. Do some brainstorming to think of themes that relate to the periodic table, and outreach activities related to elements and their impact on health, water, food, pollution, or other topics that touch everyday life. These activities can be done at any time of the year as stand-alone events or as complements to pre-scheduled trips to schools or events.

UNESCO suggests in its proclamation that IYPT would be “an occasion to pay tribute to the recent discovery and naming of four super-heavy elements of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements with atomic numbers 113 (Nihonium), 115 (Moscovium), 117 (Tennessine) and 118 (Oganesson) resulting from close international scientific cooperation.” Your chapter could base activities on one or more of these elements.

Visit ACS’s IYPT site for more ideas

3. Brainstorm after NCW

With all the successes and challenges from your National Chemistry Week celebration fresh in your mind, you can get a head start in documenting how to make 2019 even more special and aligned with IYPT. Also consider partnering with other ACS student chapters in your region to brainstorm, plan, and compare notes.

Examples of brainstorming questions to get the conversation started:

What should we communicate about the history and impact of discoveries of elements related to paper?

What elements were discovered, and how are they important to life today?

What scientists or professors do we know who could help us determine good demonstrations and activities related to paper chemistry?

After your brainstorming sessions, debrief as a chapter to share how things went, the impact your activities had, and what each of your contributing members learned in the process. Make a list of new skills your members, individually and as a group, may have gained through the event, and help your members recognize how this outreach helped them elevate the level of their résumé as they begin searching for jobs or applying to graduate schools.

4. Plan Earth Week activities

The 2019 theme for the Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (April 21-27) is paper chemistry. You can discuss the importance of cellulose, how chemistry is used to create paper, and how chemists protect the environment with recycling methods.

5. Maximize summer

The summer season is a great time for chapter members to do volunteer work because most students aren’t in classes. While being mindful of the time that volunteers have available, you might consider adding a periodic table booth to summer 2019 events in your area (career fairs, carnivals, other community events).

6. Organize a scavenger hunt

Organize a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt to encourage students to learn more about the periodic table. These can be as simple as finding commercial uses of different elements, reports or literature reviews about individual elements, or—if you’re really ambitious—finding real samples of pure elements.

7.  Raise money

Organize a periodic-table-themed fundraiser. For a bake sale, you could sell element-themed cupcakes that come with a short description or history of an element. Your treats can teach the general public about the periodic table while raising money for your chapter. Go the extra mile for your community by using those proceeds to buy periodic table posters, games, or sets, and donate them to area schools.

8. Host a speaker or go on a field trip

In the past 40 years, 12 elements were observed for the first time. Some of the people who were involved in the discovery of these elements would be fantastic and unique speakers to give a perspective on the discovery of an element. You could also make a trip to a science museum or a research or national laboratory to talk to scientists while learning a little history.

9. Look at the discoverers

All too often we as chemists look at the elements or compounds and may not learn about the person who discovered them. Take some time with your chapter to learn about the scientists responsible for the discoveries. These were great people who came from diverse backgrounds. You can make it fun by throwing a costume party or playing games like charades where the answers are the names of the scientists who accomplished the things we rely on in current research.

10. Host a seminar

Student groups and ACS local sections can do a lot to help others appreciate the incredible science that was done to first isolate or create and observe elements. Consider developing a seminar that can be presented at a school, for an extracurricular group, or at a local section meeting. These seminars can be on the history of the periodic table, the accomplishments of isolating the elements, or how elements benefit society.

11. Share your results

Tell others of your successes. Use opportunities like a regional or national meeting to tell others about what you did. When you share your best practices, others can repeat your success across the country or around the world.

12. Show appreciation

Show appreciation for members by giving them awards, or give away prizes for competitions. The prizes or awards don’t have to be big or expensive. They could be small and related to the periodic table, maybe from the ACS Store. Check out the new IYPT calendar, or search for periodic table T-shirts, mugs, and pencils.

These are just a few ways in which you can incorporate IYPT into your 2019 activities. As future leaders, you know your colleagues and the needs of your community. Don’t limit yourself. Be creative and have fun. Collaborate, teach, and encourage people to learn. You never know the life that is changed through the inspiration you create.