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Dr. Robert E. Belford
The joint UNESCO-IUPAC sponsorship of IYC 2011 prompted the Physical and Biophysical Chemistry Division of IUPAC to run chemistry cartoon and physical chemistry video competitions for high school to postgraduate student individuals from January to May 2011. The aim of the cartoon competition was to clearly illustrate a chemistry principle which would enrich the teaching of chemistry. The student video competition attracted few entries but may have been more successful had the competition been open to the small student groups who are normally involved in video production. The cartoon competition attracted 63 entries from 8 countries. There were multiple entries from some schools where teacher encouragement was clearly an important influence. As a result of this IYC activity the Physical Chemistry Division of IUPAC is considering running student physical chemistry cartoon competitions as part of it ongoing activities.
Chemistry Cartoon and Video Competitions
Department of Chemistry, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
President of the Physical and Biophysical Chemistry Division of IUPAC for 2010-2011
Genesis of IYC participation
Nicole Moreau as President of IUPAC encouraged her Divisions during 2010 to become involved in the activities of the upcoming International Year of Chemistry 2011 which was a UNESCO-IUPAC partnership. This was somewhat of a challenge to the Division of Physical and Biophysical Chemistry which mainly addresses aspects of physical chemistry terminology and definitions etc which are far removed from the anticipated focus of IYC activities. Nevertheless, we share with the Committee on Chemical Education (CCE) of IUPAC several joint projects having a dimension of chemical education in physical chemistry. CCE has been active in welcoming joint activities with all the Divisions of IUPAC. So considering an appropriate Divisional activity for IYC was not entirely outside our comfort zone. We felt it may also generate visibility for the Division not otherwise obtainable.
Student physical chemistry videos
We were initially attracted to the idea of a student physical chemistry video competition as videos are increasingly used to illustrate chemistry concepts through the internet and in teaching contexts. We wanted to somehow link the competition to physical chemistry but were well aware that this might restrict participation, and I am sure this was a factor in the eventual outcome. So the goal of the competition was to clearly illustrate a physical chemistry principle in a manner that can enrich the teaching of physical chemistry. But does physical chemistry mean anything to most students, apart from that part of chemistry that should be avoided because it includes more mathematics! For students not aware of chemistry subsections we included a link to an explanation in general terms of physical (and biophysical) chemistry.
The webpage guidelines referred to entries from individual students enrolled at a secondary or a tertiary institution. The entry form further defined the study level as secondary school, undergraduate, or postgraduate. For the few video competition entries received, all were from secondary school pupils and about 50% from one school. One critical oversight was to accept videos from individual students rather than from groups of students and this was probably the most important factor in the low response. In practice all videos are made by at least two people and often larger groups to accommodate the range of tasks involved. Several entries from one school implied it had been a designated class activity. Names of the 3-4 contributing were attached to the entry forms although the entries were from ‘individuals’.
Merit cartoon prize winner “Crash Bond” by Elizabeth Randall (UK)
Student chemistry cartoons
Although the idea of a student chemistry (not physical chemistry) cartoon competition seemed to lack any direct connection to our activities, it was closer to the main thrust of IYC activities and was likely to have a better prospect of wider participation. The webpage details and competition goal were very similar to that for the video competition but with a broadened goal to clearly illustrate a chemistry principle in a manner that can enrich the teaching of chemistry. We retained the word principle because physical chemistry is often about chemistry principles. Not surprisingly, the principles aspect of the goal was not generally addressed in entries. We received entries from across the age spectrum but predominantly from secondary pupils, and from several schools where the competition appeared to have been adopted as a classroom activity.
Merit cartoon prize winner ”Degenerate Orbitals” by Bruno Demoro (Uruguay)
Merit cartoon prize winner "Enlightenment" by Caroline Dahl (UK)
(View cartoon in new window)
Merit cartoon prize winner "Sn1 vs. Sn2" by Megan Jackson (USA)
Merit cartoon prize winner "Teddy Catalysis" by Phoebe Low (USA)
(View cartoon in new window)
Entries and Judging
The IYC activity webpages for the two competitions were up and running before the end of 2010. The webpages contained entry guidelines, key dates, judging criteria, and entry submission instructions. The entry period was until May 31 with outcome notification by 30 June 2011. Entries were received via University of Otago email addresses and posted to a dropbox for the judges to access. The cartoon competition resulted in 63 entries from 8 countries while the video competition attracted only 12 entries. The cartoon judging was coordinated by Assaf Friedler of the Physical and Biophysical Chemistry Division and involved representatives from several IUPAC Divisions.
“Chemical Attraction” by Jessica Hough. Jessica Hough’s cartoon was inspired by the lectures of her chemistry teacher Ms. Campbell, who pushed her to continue with chemistry and told her about the competition. Hough’s art teacher, Ms. Kronyak, also encouraged her to explore art and creativity in general. Jess Hough is now attending college at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York. She is enrolled in the illustration program, and hopes to work in enough chemistry electives to put together a concentration or possibly a minor. Scientific art is a definite interest.
Yordan Darakchiev a high school student of Kotel, Bulgaria was the winner of the video competition with a video on the Le Chatalier principle, which is embedded at the bottom of this paper. Jessica Hough, a high school student of Montgomery, New York, USA won the cartoon competition with her “Chemical attraction” cartoon. Merit prizes we awarded to five other cartoon entries and one other video entry. The prizewinners were required to sign agreements giving IUPAC the right to use the videos or cartoons for publicity purposes until the end of 2011. The winning video and cartoon prizewinners were invited to attend a prizegiving at the IUPAC Congress in San Juan, Puerto Rico in early August 2011. Jessica Hough accompanied by her mother was able to travel to San Juan for this event. Yordan Darachiev was congratulated by Skype linkage with the Division’s meeting at San Juan.
Jim McQuillan presenting Jessica Hough with her award on 1 August 2011 during IUPAC Congress at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Cartoons to teach chemistry?
The guidelines for the cartoon competition referred to conveying meaning with “economy, clarity, and good humour” with “creation of interest, novelty, and entertainment value” being part of the judging criteria. The prizewinning cartoons certainly had many of these qualities and cartoons can be valuable teacher resources to enhance chemistry teaching in the teaching environment. Alternatively, challenging a class of chemistry students to create cartoons which would effectively convey chemistry concepts would improve student understanding of concepts, as all teaching improves teacher understanding. Graphical representation of the essence of research papers in ‘cartoons’ is now common in contents pages of most journals and graphical standard has become a quality factor in publication presentation. There is therefore an increasingly graphical dimension in teaching and presentation of chemistry and the utilisation of cartoons as teaching tools can benefit both teacher and student.
An article about the cartoon competition which contained some of the prizewinning cartoons and photos of the prizegiving appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of the IUPAC news magazine Chemistry International. http://www.iupac.org/publications/ci/2011/3306/6_iyc_cartoons.html
Chemical and Engineering News gave coverage to the cartoon competition in its Central Science newscripts for September 23, 2011.
There was also coverage of the cartoon competition in the October 2011 issue of ChemClub the ACS High Schools newsletter.
The success of the cartoon competition has prompted the Division of Physical and Biophysical Chemistry to consider running an annual student physical chemistry cartoon competition, combining the greater success likelihood of a cartoon competition with a focus on physical chemistry.
Summary of outcomes
Prize winning video by Yordan Darakchiev, a high school student of Kotel, Bulgaria.
Rolando Guidelli, Assaf Friedler, and Roberto Marquardt of the Division of Physical and Biophysical Chemistry helped to draft the webpage material. Fabienne Meyers of IUPAC helped with IYC webpage insertions. Theresa Mendosa, Matt Rooney and Russell Garbutt provided valuable technical support at the University of Otago. Assaf Friedler (Israel), Maria Filomena Camoes (Portugal), Richard Hartshorn (New Zealand), Sanjay Mathur (Germany), and Doug Templeton (Canada) judged the cartoons. Rolando Guidelli (Italy), Michel Rossi (Switzerland), and Kaoru Yamanouchi (Japan) were video judges. Kathryn Hughes of the US National Academy of Sciences facilitated funding support from Corning and from the ACS.