How to Celebrate the Chemistry of Fabrics for National Chemistry Week 2022

Mark your calendar for the week of October 16 and rally your chapter―it’s time to start planning your National Chemistry Week (NCW) festivities! This year’s theme celebrates the chemistry of fabrics and the fabulous fibers from which they’re created.

Chemists might not be walking the runways of Paris or Milan, but their cutting-edge coatings, novel fibers, and advanced assembly techniques are taking fabrics to new levels. Such developments are behind electronic clothing, next-generation space suits, and extra-lightweight protective gear. And chemists are also developing innovative methods for reusing and reducing the tons of textile waste otherwise headed for landfills.

Oh, and remember that coffee spill that didn’t stain? Thanks to chemistry, today’s clothing, carpets, and furniture have a fighting chance against permanent stickiness and discoloration. How could anyone not appreciate the theme of this year’s NCW?

Help those around you recognize the value of chemistry this NCW. Here are some ideas for weaving fabrics and fun into fabulous events―be sure to check out the NCW website for advice on planning events, fun activities, articles, flyer templates, and more.

Ways to celebrate with your chapter

Compete in the ChemClash on October 18
From the team behind ACS Program-in-a-Box, ChemClash: Fabric Feud! is a free interactive trivia game show where students and early career chemists gather with ACS student chapters, local sections, and technical divisions to out-answer the competition and bring home prizes for themselves and their teams.  Attendees will use their smartphones to individually compete in five chemistry-inspired trivia rounds, a costume contest, and SciComm video competition. Register your chapter.

Learn from an expert
Research on fibers and fabrics spans the physical sciences, social sciences, and creative arts. This is a great opportunity to work with arts and/or fashion departments and show just how central a science chemistry is! Invite an expert, or panel of experts, to share their research with your chapter during NCW. There are probably many on your campus! If your chapter has specific interests not represented at your school, reach out to faculty at nearby schools, arrange a virtual event, or watch a prerecorded lecture online.

You could also invite historians or people from cultures who historically grew, harvested, and manipulated natural fibers to make yarns and then fabrics to a chapter meeting. They may not have a chemistry background, but they can explain such things as how to spin fibers into yarn or how to use dyes, mordants, and modifiers to get the color you want on fabrics. “Your chapter could use what you learn to speculate on what is happening chemically,” suggests Patti Galvan, manager of the Kids & Chemistry Program at ACS.  “The tools and methods for spinning, for example, require a lot of skill and some clever engineering. Also, the way that flax is harvested and converted to linen or jute is converted to burlap is really remarkable. In both cases there is some fermentation going on to break down the phloem tubes from these tall grasses into long fibers,” she adds. 

Explore a textile exhibit
Expand your chapter’s horizon by exploring how fabrics and their uses have evolved in different places. Many cities have textile museums or museums with textile exhibits. If your chapter has specific interests or an in-person visit isn’t viable, delve into some of the many online exhibits together, such as Clothing the Pandemic, a virtual exhibit exploring COVID-19 face masks from around the world by the International Council of Museums Costume Committee.

Bond over movie night
Relax with a bowl of popcorn and an acclaimed textile documentary such as Bunkar: The Last of the Varanasi Weavers, Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo, or Weavers of Maheshwar. Or go for more classic entertainment with the action thriller Wanted or the fashion comedy The Devil Wears Prada. Superhero movies feature many thought-provoking fibers and fabrics, from Spiderman’s super-strong web strands to Black Panther’s vibration-absorbing suit, so they’re another great choice for chapter movie night.

Add a splash of color
Tie-dye chapter shirts and lab coats, or decorate them with radial chromatography. For an added challenge, create dyes from acorns and rust, avocados, or other natural organisms or objects. Some need time to steep, so plan ahead.

Discuss current research
Challenge each member to read a fabric-themed chemistry article and give a two-minute summary at an October chapter meeting. Alternatively, ask everyone to read the same article and then discuss it together. Have a large chapter? Break into small groups and share discussion highlights with everyone. See the Read & Discuss section for article recommendations.

Get crafty
Invite chapter members to show off their crocheting, macramé, or other textile skills. Or learn a new one together! A simple learning activity could help members relieve stress and take your department decor to a festive new level. You could also hold a T-shirt design contest to honor the chemistry of fabrics on fabric!

Cohost a science-and-art event
Nothing brings different perspectives together like a science-and-art event. Reach out to textile artists and enthusiasts (like embroidery or knitting clubs) on campus or in your community about hosting a joint event. Whether it’s an informal pizza get-together, colloquium, science café, or art exhibit, people on both sides are likely to walk away with a new appreciation for fibers and fabrics, as well as some new friends.


Ways to celebrate with the community

Give fabrics a second chance with an NCW community service event
Clothing accounts for a vast and ever-increasing amount of trash each year, even though most items could be reused, recycled, or composted. Curb the waste and support your community by hosting a free clothing swap, used clothing or blanket drive, or recycling and compost drive (only for items that can’t be reused). Give donations a meaningful second life by partnering with charitable community organizations, and make sure you follow local guidelines for recycling and composting textiles.

Engage K–12 students or the public
Hold an event at a local school or community center featuring hands-on activities, or invite community members to campus for a family-friendly chemistry night.

You might include lab tours or a talk highlighting the role of chemistry in next-generation fabrics alongside hands-on activities and wow-inducing demonstrations.

See event ideas on the NCW website

Promote the NCW illustrated poem contest
Make sure your chapter lets local K–12 teachers know about NCW’s Illustrated Poem Contest. Students can submit original poetry and related artwork until October 30 to their local NCW coordinators for a chance to win cash prizes. Download flyers here and email them to teachers or pass them out during outreach events.

Raise awareness on campus
Create posters or social media campaigns for your school highlighting the relationship between chemistry and fabrics and the importance of reusing and recycling textiles. Consider partnering with students in your school’s fine arts or graphic design programs to bring the theme to life in creative, thematic ways.

Share your celebrations
Whether you tie-dye lab coats, host an outreach event, or host an outreach event wearing tie-dye lab coats, take photos! Upload photos and a brief description to the NCW 2022 album and share what you’re up to on social media.


Read & Discuss

Articles from Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) and ChemMatters


Chemists weave molecular fabric (2020)
Instead of a loom, researchers used ions to interlace molecules.

Could polyethylene be the sustainable fabric of the future? (2021)
Textiles made from this popular plastic offer stain resistance, passive cooling, and recyclability.

Laser burns graphene onto Kevlar to power up protective gear (2020)
Using lasers to directly create graphene on Kevlar makes it easy to integrate electronics on textiles.

Strong, crystalline fibers mimic natural spider silk (2021)
Scientists create a method for synthesizing superstrong fibers.

Discovery Report: The Future of sustainable textiles (2022)
Chemistry is closing the loop on fashion waste.

Lightweight but strong ‘wood armor’ can fend off bullets (2022)
Inspired by a fish’s natural defense to piranhas, layered lignocellulose creates a rugged material.

This stretchable, wearable battery can power a smart watch (2022)
The printable device is the first to use inherently stretchable gels and composites for each component.

Transforming textiles (2022)
Chemical recycling technologies could play a key role in slashing the textile industry’s environmental footprint.