Chemistry in Primetime and Online: Communicating Chemistry in Informal Environments

Did you know that most Americans learn about science through television and the Internet, rather students at museumthan in the classroom?

Family TV viewing, trips to museums, and visits to websites offer great opportunities to engage and educate kids and adults about science—yet these settings often lack primary chemistry content.

To explore how to take chemistry education beyond the classroom or research lab, the National Academies’ Chemical Sciences Roundtable held the workshop Chemistry in Primetime and Online: Communicating Chemistry in Informal Environments.

A diverse array of science communicators,  including researchers, educators, science writers, bloggers, and television producers, gathered at the workshop to share insights on delivering chemistry content to a general audience.

The resulting report captures these discussions, and represents the most extensive compilation of materials on informal chemistry outreach efforts to date—a valuable resource for anyone interested in effective science communication.

Workshop Resources

Visit the National Academies Press to download this workshop summary in PDF format for free!





Click the button (the one with four arrows pointing out) in the lower right corner of each video to see a full-screen version.

Informal Chemistry


An introduction to informal learning and how it relates to chemistry opened the workshop, provided by Kirsten Ellenbogen, Science Museum of Minnesota and member of the National Research Council Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments.

David Ucko of the National Science Foundation made the connection between chemistry and informal education, as he reviewed characteristics, techniques, and sources of support in informal education.

Stephen Lyons of Moreno-Lyons Productions discussed the role of documentary films in communicating science and how chemistry is one of the few fields that have been neglected by informal media sources.


Chemistry in Print

Literature, print media, and blogs contribute to informal learning about chemistry.


Joy Moore from Seed Media Group offered insights from her company's experience with using print media and science blogs to promote a better understanding of chemistry.

Local Outreach Efforts

Outreach experts shared personal experiences in introducing informal science to their communities.


Jeannette Brown of the New Jersey American Chemical Society local section shared her experience as a chemistry ambassador, conducting hands-on activities at festivals and other events, as well as creating educational resources about African-American chemists.

Ruth Woodall of the Nashville American Chemical Society local section, also a chemistry ambassador, spoke about how she introduces chemistry to public audiences, especially young people.

Catherine Conrad from St. Mary’s University presented a very different approach to local outreach called “citizen science,” where nonscientists help collect real scientific data.


Chemistry in Museums

Museums are centers for informal learning of chemistry, as described in these presentations. 


Shelly Geehr of the Chemical Heritage Foundation discussed features of the recently created Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum.

Peter Yancone with the Maryland Science Center described chemistry-related activities in and beyond the museum, including the challenges of providing hands-on experiences.


Chemistry in Video and on the Radio

Vdeo and radio play a role in informal science education.


Jorge Salazar of EarthSky Communications described his organization’s efforts to provide a commercial-free way for scientists to communicate their research to the public through audio and video on the radio and internet.

Mark Griep of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discussed his analysis of chemistry content in films and explained how popular movies can play a major role as an informal educational tool for understanding chemistry.


Tools and Techniques

Speakers shared insights on new tools and techniques for communicating chemistry in informal environments.


Andrea Twiss-Brooks from the University of Chicago explained the important and changing role that libraries and librarians play as a source of informal science. She also discussed how the American Chemical Society Committee on Community Activities is trying to better collect data and evaluate the effectiveness of its outreach efforts.

Additional Presentations

These presentations were not recorded:

Chemistry in Print
John Emsley (via webcast), University of Cambridge
Ivan Amato, Pew Charitable Trusts

Chemistry in Museums
Sapna Batish and Erika Shugart, Koshland Science Museum
Susanne Rehn (via webcast), Deutsches Museum

Chemistry in Video and on the Radio
Martyn Poliakoff (via webcast), University of Nottingham

Tools and Techniques
Robert Hone, Red Hill Studios
Deborah Illman (via webcast), University of Washington