Orinda Family Science Night 1997

      by Marinda Li Wu, NCW Coordinator. Originally published in The Vortex, December 1997.

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Described as a joyous "chemistry carnival" in a front cover news story with the headline “Science Takes Center Stage in Hands-on Experiments" - Orinda's first FAMILY SCIENCE NIGHT on November 3 was a wildly successful celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of National Chemistry Week and certainly the "talk of the town" for the month prior to the event. In fact, both the Mayor of the City of Orinda, Sargent Littlehale, as well as the California State Governor, Pete Wilson, sent their heartiest congratulations to the California Section of the American Chemical Society and proclaimed November 2-8, 1997 as NATIONAL CHEMISTRY WEEK.

Preparing for the Next Century: Hints to Help Children Discover the Magic & Won- ders of Science & Technologywas the title of this overwhelmingly popular FAMILY SCIENCE NIGHT co-sponsored by the California Section of ACS and the Orinda Union School District Parent Education Committee (OPEC). Typically an OPEC program draws an audience of 40-50, but unexpectedly this NCW event succeeded in attracting a crowd of over a thousand people of all ages - approximately 800 attendees consisting of families of K-8th graders from Orinda's four elementary schools and one intermediate school plus another 200 V.I.P.'s (volunteers in public outreach consisting of 150 local high school science students along with college students, graduate students, postdocs, professors, and scientists from all over the California Section). ACS as well as a number of non-ACS volunteers participated with help from a number of organizations including AWlS (Association for Women in Science), Iota Sigma Pi (National Honorary Society for Women in Chemistry), and a couple of Orinda Girl Scout troops. In fact, attendance had to be limited due to facility and parking constraints at the Orinda Intermediate School. The main program was repeated in three shifts in the auditorium; and "hands-on" activities, displays and demonstrations were spread outdoors throughout the school campus in a "science fair" fashion.

Billed as "GOOD CHEMISTRY" by the San Francisco Chronicle, the FAMILY SCIENCE NIGHT began with a warm welcome from Dr. Shalee Cunningham, OUSD Superintendent, and Dr. Marinda Li Wu, a member of both ACS and OPEC and Co-Chair for the event along with Carol Sueoka (OPEC) and Janet Schunk (ACS). Marinda shared with the audience a Certificate of Recognition from Delaine Eastin, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the California Department of Education. The crowd then swayed to "fun chemistry rap music" performed by a dynamic duo from UC Berkeley (biochemistry majors, Ryan Louie and Allan Wong). This was followed by a series of entertaining chemistry demos by a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with Dr. Bryan Balazs making "elephant toothpaste" for the kids, Dr. Louis Grace making "wine" with different color liquids for the adults, and Ken Foster ending the show with a great "big bang!" The auditorium's program then concluded each of the three sessions with exciting raffle drawings from the audience for three prizes-a NCW Worth A Million! T-shirt for adults, a Science is Fun! T-shirt for kids, and an NCW "goodie" bag filled with NCW souvenirs.

Meanwhile outside the auditorium, families were gobbling up delicious raspberry "LN2" ice cream as fast as Dr. Don Baker (an Orinda research scientist with over 200 agricultural chemical patents!) and his crew of Zeneca chemists and high school student assistants could whip it up. From 7:00- 8:30 pm, budding young chemists with their parents enjoyed exploring various "hands-on" science activities including Dental Detectives, ACS Planet Chemistry experiments, pH test stations, and making gooey "slime" with Dr. Elaine Yamaguchi, other Chevron chemists and energetic high school students as well as numerous other fun activities. An ACS-NCW Display Booth showing Chemistry is Everywhere attracted attention along with other displays and exhibits. Inside a couple of classrooms, some ACS Executives (Dr. Glenn Fuller, Dr. Igor Sobolev, Mary Singleton) led lively discussions with the general public while presenting the ACS Speak Out slide presentations on Your Health and The Environment.

When planning began last May for this NCW Tenth Anniversary Celebration, the vision was to involve people of all ages from youngsters to seniors in a community where "sports" rather than" science" is the usual topic of interest. It was truly wonderful to see this vision become a reality! Wide support and involvement came from not only the entire community but from all over the section! It was indeed heartwarming to see the older high school students enthusiastically teaching and leading the younger students, and as one parent put it in a thank you letter after this NCW event -"the festival-like atmosphere" and fun had by all at this first Orinda FAMILY SCIENCE NIGHT will certainly "contribute to a more positive attitude toward chemistry" from the general community. Perhaps, most thrilling of all was when State Assembly Representative Lynne Leach (who happened to win one of the NCW "goodie" bag raffles) commented to the OUSD School Board President that our program should serve as a "model" for other school districts in the state. Public awareness of the positive benefits and contributions that chemistry brings to our everyday lives has certainly been raised this year at least 1000-fold throughout the California Section and especially in the city of Orinda, CA (population: 17,000)!