Global Handshake Brings Chemists Together in Chemical Processing

February 22, 2011 - Philadelphia, PA

By Traci Purdum, Senior Digital Editor

I recently spoke with Catherine T. “Katie” Hunt, director, Innovation Sourcing & Sustainable Technologies at The Dow Chemical Co., regarding her involvement in a ground-breaking, global event. She was instrumental in the success of Women Sharing a Chemical Moment in Time—a pre-launch event for the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) that designed to bring women in chemistry together worldwide for a breakfast meeting that was held Jan. 18, 2011.

In addition to networking, the aim was to celebrate the pivotal role of Marie Curie in chemistry (100th anniversary of Marie Curie winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry), and to reflect on the current landscape for women chemists. During the event, different breakfast meetings in similar time zones were linked up with each other by communication tools such as Skype.

“It was awesome, exciting and a whole lot of fun,” says Hunt, who called in via Skype at noon to connect with women at Dow AgroScience in Hawaii. “This was a global handshake around the world that really brought people together.”

Hunt tells me that even though the event was targeted toward women, there were men involved. And this event truly was worldwide—each call moved farther and farther across the globe reaching chemists in China, Australia and Europe to name a few. She also tells me the success of the event has sparked interest in doing another global handshake during dinner.

The goal of IYC, and events like the breakfast meeting, is to put a human face and voice on chemistry.

“It’s all about education,” says Hunt, who relayed a story about how Google helped the chemical industry realize it needs to better market itself. According to Hunt, folks from Dow and Google were at a conference and the Google people said the reason chemists don’t get their due is because they don't market themselves well.

“We need to speak out about how chemistry affects lives,” says Hunt. “We need to engage people and tell our story.”

To do so, Dow created a video to celebrate IYC and challenge the industry to join the conversation.  Another video shows the impact chemistry has on everyday life without saying a word.

Add to this platform contests aimed at getting kids involved in chemistry and you can see that Dow is truly dedicated to putting a human face on the industry.

It’s Elemental—a video contest presented by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, supported by a grant from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and sponsored by The Dow Chemical Co.—solicited hundreds of videos from U.S. high school students. The goal was to pick an element from the Periodic Table and create a video that places the element within a historical or social context rather than merely listing factual information about the element. The judging process is still under way, but you can check out the submissions and decide which is your favorite.

“We had entries for nearly every element—700 entries overall,” says Hunt. “There was a call for volunteers to judge the contest. We got 30 judges in under 30 minutes.”

Talking to Hunt, I realized how dedicated she was to spreading the word about the chemical industry. From volunteering in her son’s classroom to teach young children about chemistry to mentoring other kids to widen the audience of potential chemists to helping teachers get the tools they need to conduct chemistry experiments to further entice students, Hunt believes the words she says: “I’m proud to be a chemist.”

What makes you proud to be a part of the chemical industry?

Link to Chemical Processing.

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