National Chemistry Week celebration features look at science and scientists

They escaped in the bays of British bombers, philandered and argued incessantly about science and religion. All told, the scientists credited with exploring and articulating what is now known as Quantum Mechanics were a lively bunch.

RU Assistant Professor of Chemistry and quantum chemist Tim Fuhrer introduced eight of the leading lights of this revolutionary blend of science, mathematics and speculation during a presentation to open Radford University's celebration of National Chemistry Week on Monday, Oct. 21, in the Hurlburt Student Center Auditorium.

Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Erwin Schrodinger, the ubiquitous Albert Einstein and their stormy relationships with each other and surprisingly adventurous lives were featured in the presentation titled, "Quantum Mechanics: a philosophical history," as Fuhrer recounted the birth, development and eventual acceptance of quantum mechanics before more than 50 students, faculty and guests.

"These are fascinating scientists and people who influenced the way we think now and how we understand the way the world works," he said. "History and science interacted in a powerful way through them."

Bringing chemistry to the younger set during National Chemistry Week with a unique and visual STEM experience was Professor of Chemistry Frances Webster who took his "Magic of Chemistry" show to Kingsport and captivated more than 1,500 fourth-graders on Tues., Oct. 22, and Wed., Oct 23.

Webster and the Northeast Tennessee Section of the American Chemical Society hosted children from 25 Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia schools at the Employee Center of Eastman Chemical. Webster and his team of RU undergraduate chemistry students performed their show featuring creative chemistry experiments along with a variety of other exhibits and demonstrations to illustrate the importance and fun of science in everyday life.

In celebration of the role chemistry plays in the lives of those over 21 years old, Joseph Wirgau, associate professor of chemistry, spoke on Tuesday in the Hurlburt Auditorium about chemistry and the arts of brewers and vintners as they prepare the adult beverages that enliven our culture.

In "Happy Hour: an eclectic collection of ideas coalescing around the chemistry of beer and wine," Wirgau infused pop culture with chemical notation and science to explain how chemistry influences the color, taste and production of beer and wine. Among the many anecdotes Wirgau recounted were about how the lead –lined jars in which wine was aged in Rome may have caused lead poisoning and could account for some of the erratic behavior of Roman leaders and the empire's downfall. He also pointed out that the cork, symbolic of fine wine, actually can help it go bad by increasing oxidation and, due to the scarcity of cork, the cork can add $.75 to a dollar to the cost of a bottle.

The events were part of the American Chemical Society's national celebration to encourage chemists and chemistry enthusiasts to build awareness of chemistry in their communities.

Oct 31, 2013