Public Release: 

Chicago area chemist Lee Marek wins ACS Helen M. Free award

American Chemical Society

NEW YORK, Sept. 9 -- Lee Marek of Naperville, Ill., received the 2003 Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach today from the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, for helping people understand how chemistry affects their lives. He received the award during a special "ChemLuminary" ceremony, one of the highlights of the ACS' 226th national meeting this week in New York.

Marek was a high school chemistry teacher for 28 years at Naperville North High School where he set up the Chemistry and Advanced Placement Chemistry programs. Since his retirement last year, he has been at the University of Illinois at Chicago working on special programs, including chemistry demonstrations. In addition to teaching, Marek has appeared on the "The Late Show with David Letterman" 24 times in the past 13 years to do chemistry demonstrations. His work on "Letterman" was featured in a finalist spot for the National Emmy Awards. Marek has conducted chemistry demonstrations on both radio and television programs, including all the major TV networks -- CBS, ABC, FOX and NBC.

Marek's outreach has not been limited to television and radio, however. He has led many workshops and courses throughout the country and abroad focusing on real-life chemistry for students and teachers. For the past 20 years, Marek has run weeklong workshops held at different colleges each summer to target high school students and teachers interested in chemistry. He worked with chemistry teachers in Sweden, Holland and Ireland to help teachers engage students through demonstrations. Marek also co-runs an annual "History of Science" course that tours different countries, focusing on their past and present contributions to science.

Throughout his career, Marek has been dedicated to helping students, teachers and the public enjoy and understand chemistry. For 14 years he ran CHEM WEST, a chemistry teachers' alliance in the Chicago area. "It is our job as teachers to awaken a student's desire to learn," Marek explains. CHEM WEST supports teachers in this endeavor by providing a forum to discuss ideas, materials, demos, lab, methodologies and safety regulations.

Marek also participates in a traveling demonstration stage show called "Weird Science" that has reached an audience of over 300,000, including demonstrations on the floor of Congress. Weird Science excels in "turning on even the most comatose students," Marek says. Newsweek magazine lauded the show for "[exposing] youngsters to seemingly magical wonders more intriguing than video games."

Marek's many awards include the 1998 Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching that afforded him a year sabbatical at Northwestern University. In 1999, Marek was awarded a Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program to Japan. The goal of the three week program is to offer U.S. teachers and administrators an opportunity for professional development while increasing the level of understanding between Japan and the United States.

The Helen M. Free Award was established in 1995 to recognize outstanding achievements in public outreach. A former president of the ACS, Dr. Free initiated many programs and activities designed to improve the public's awareness of chemistry's contributions to the quality of daily life.

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