Chemistry in everyday life

When you look closely, you can find chemistry everywhere. This is especially true in Australia where five exhibitions about chemistry criss-cross the country with the aim to make the public more aware of the role of chemistry in everyday life addressing the role of chemistry in food and drink, using natural resources, making new materials, improving health, and nuclear chemistry.

Created for the International Year of Chemistry in 2011, these exhibitions are in their fourth year on the road. They are presented by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, with support from Inspiring Australia.

Each exhibition theme covers eight topics which are presented in eight pull-up banners and four small showcases. The displays are visually engaging and developed to appeal to a wide audience. The exhibitions are intended to be hosted by large suburban and regional public libraries but have also appeared in science centres and museums. The five exhibitions are viewed by more than 250,000 each year and have received very positive visitor comment.

The program of travelling exhibitions is designed to simultaneously:

  • Encourage young people to pursue studies and consider careers in the chemical sciences through informal, self-directed enquiry and learning;
  • Better inform an interested, but not necessarily engaged, general population about recent advances that the chemical sciences have made to our quality of life;
  • Generate interest from those members of Australian society who are disinterested in science, and to encourage them to learn more about the role of chemistry in their everyday lives.

The displays have been successful in attracting and holding attention, which is not surprising with content that ranges from a large tarantula and scorpion, to commercial products which contain nanoparticles, to emu poo, to hydrogen storing crystals, and exotic carbon fibre and fibre optic materials. What is surprising is that showcases of everyday products such as an array of cooking oils also generate plenty of interest.

The exhibition currently touring NSW and the ACT is called Material Futures and looks at how rising demand drives research into making more things but with less energy and resources.

A product hungry world relies on more chemists to get material. Colour, shape and substance give form to our material surroundings. Yet the seemingly insubstantial, invisible, and ephemeral are also parts of the material realm. Chemists work with the full range of matter as they manipulate frameworks of atoms and molecules to fashion new materials and devise improvements to old favourites.

The exhibition is now on display at Liverpool Library until 30 May and will then tour to libraries in Dubbo, Muswellbrook Library, Ryde before travelling to Questacon and moving on to Wagga Wagga
and Griffith.

The project will tour all states and territories of Australia and is supported through the Inspiring Australia’s Unlocking Australia’s Potential competitive grants round and matched by RACI funds

Read more about the regional travelling exhibitions.

Jesse Shore is the Director of Prismatic Sciences.