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National chemistry week celebrations explore ''Earth's Atmosphere and Beyond!''

Every year, the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, presents something extraordinary for kids of all ages: the nation's largest chemistry celebration.  National Chemistry Week allows chemists to interact with the public and gives the public the opportunity to participate in the fun side of chemistry.  This year, from Oct. 19-25, the American Chemical Society joins the nation in tributes to the 100th anniversary of flight with a special National Chemistry Week theme — "Earth's Atmosphere and Beyond!"

It's only natural to associate earth's atmosphere with flight. A few of the reasons are explained below:

    Pressurized cabins — The Boeing Stratoliner, first flown by TWA, was the first pressurized commercial aircraft. The basic concept is that air is pumped into the aircraft as it gains altitude to maintain pressure inside the cabin similar to the atmosphere that occurs naturally at lower altitudes.

    Jet engines — First designed in 1930 by Frank Whittle, a British pilot. In 1942, Whittle shipped his engine to General Electric in the United States and GE built an engine in its Lynn, Mass., plant based on Whittle's design. Engineers at GE ran America's first jet plane engine, the I-A, on April 18, 1942. The use of different alloys - which involves the chemistry of metallurgy - enables jets and jet parts to withstand extreme heat, cold and different altitudes.

    Radio — Two years before the Wright brothers' first flight from Kitty Hawk, N.C., Marconi sent his first radio message across the Atlantic. Today, pilots rely heavily on radio transmissions with air traffic controllers and directional beams from electronic navigation aids to help them plot safe and accurate courses through the sky. Early radios were constructed from galena, iron pyrite, semi-conductor fused silicon crystals or carborundum (silicon carbide). These advances have led to the circuitry in cell phones and computers that are widely used today.

    Widebodies and supersonics — Pan Am's debut of the Boeing 747 in 1969 was revolutionary at that time. A plane with two aisles, a distinctive upper deck over the front section of the fuselage and four engines under its wings, it could accommodate 450 passengers. Chemistry has enhanced plane construction with new plastic and composite materials that are light, strong and durable.

In observance of this year's National Chemistry Week atmospheric theme, here is a sampling of some activities scheduled across the country:

    In Nashville, Tenn., there will be speakers from the National Weather Service talking about Doppler radar and the latest in weather prediction. A weather balloon will be anchored outside of the Adventure Science Center and there will be a discussion on the environmental impacts of harmful gases in the atmosphere.
    Activities in Olympia, Wash., include a presentation in the Hands on Children's Museum on atmospheric gases and their properties. Visitors also will have an opportunity to make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
    On Oct. 19 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., there will be a special family day outing at the Museum of Discovery and Science. There also will be an opportunity to hear a discussion on "The chemistry in the Gulf of Mexico - Florida's red tide" by Kathleen "Kelly" Rein, professor of chemistry at Florida International University in Miami. Also, Frank Millero, professor of geochemistry at the University of Miami, will discuss the physical chemistry of seawater.

    On Oct. 22 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, NASA astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford will talk about her 1991 SLS-1 mission (Spacelab Life Sciences) on the Columbia space shuttle during which she conducted biomedical studies related to gravity.

    In Cincinnati, Ohio, Oct. 24-25, there will be "chemonstrations" at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  Upon entering the museum, children receive passports that lead them to three stations. At each station, there will be hands-on chemistry demonstrations to participate in and a stamp for the passport. The last station is located in the museum's News Reel Theater where the really messy fun takes place. Fully stamped passports will earn a goody bag with National Chemistry Week mementoes. Of course, it should be noted that further north in the state — in Dayton, Ohio — is where the Wright brothers lived, invented and perfected the airplane a century ago.

There are many more National Chemistry Week celebrations going on in cities across the country during October in celebration of this year's theme, "Earth's Atmosphere and Beyond!" More information about NCW, including a nationwide poster contest for Kindergarten - 12th grade students, can be found at