The Center for Chemistry of the Universe (CCU) offers a unique and exciting opportunity to engage the interest of school children and the general public in scientific research. Astronomical observations that reveal the molecular composition of space generate much interest in the broader scientific community and the general public. In 2000 the first sugar, glycoaldehyde, was detected in space.1 Its detection was reported in the New York Times on July 18, 20002 and in Science News.3 Following additional observations of this sugar in space,4 this work was named one of the top 100 science stories of 2004 by Discover Magazine.5 We plan to capitalize on this public interest through activities based on the theme “Chemistry is Universal.” Robert H. Tai, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, has agreed to work with the CCU to coordinate outreach efforts aimed at school children and the general public.
Recently, the CCU, in association with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the North American ALMA Science Center, sponsored the 2009 CCU Workshop “Advancing Chemical Understanding through Astronomical Observations” at the site of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, WV. The workshop focused on the formation of molecules under interstellar conditions, the challenges these conditions pose for experimental physical chemists, and the advantages provided by astronomical instruments such as the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Over 20 invited speakers, including senior scientists and those in their early career, shared their research findings and expertise with the 80+ individuals in attendance. The purpose of the workshop was largely educational; consequently, more than half of the registered participants were graduate students and postdoctoral research associates. Approximately 35 of these young scientists also participated in the workshop’s poster session.
In the coming year, the CCU plans to expand its outreach efforts to include the design of an exhibit for the Green Bank Science Center, the development of ViewSpace broadcast material and other media for use in secondary schools and undergraduate programs, the creation of an astrochemistry module for the Annenberg Foundation’s multimedia course on Chemistry, and the development of a CCU display appropriate for an open house-style gathering or other general public tour/viewing.
1 J.M. Hollis, F.J. Lovas, and P.R. Jewell, “Interstellar Glycolaldehyde, The First Sugar,” ApJ Letters 540, L107 (2000). Full Text
2 Fountain, H., “Observatory”, New York Times, July 18, 2000. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/07/18/science/observatory.html
3 Cowen,R., “More Sugar in Space”, Science News 166, October 9, 2004. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/5494/title/More_space_sugar
4 D.T. Halfen, A.J. Apponi, R. Polt, N.J. Woolf, and L.M. Ziurys, “A Systematic Study of Glycolaldehyde in Sgr B2(N) at 2 and 3 Millimeters: Criteria for Detecting Large Interstellar Molecules,”Ap.J., 639, 237 (2006). Full Text
5 Editors, “The Year in Science: Top 100 Stories”, Discover, January 13, 2005. http://discovermagazine.com/2005/jan/top-100-stories