Telling Stories

1928 advertisement for Listerine

A common object such as Listerine has a fascinating history. 

If you are alive, chemistry is part of your life. As such, I’ve always been surprised that people are put off by it. Until I read “Chemistry: All About You.” This outreach website almost turned me off chemistry. I share the goal of showing how chemistry comprises much of the fabric of our lives and culture, but my approach couldn’t be more different.

Only at a funeral do we mention solely the good things a person has done in their life. Chemistry is not dead; it’s very much alive and kicking. We’ve used it to do good things and bad things. Sometimes the good things can be turned to bad uses. Sometimes we’re simply careless. “Chemistry: All About You” gives the messianic impression that chemistry will save us. That is a turnoff. But this approach raises the question of how to talk about and even celebrate chemistry without resorting to blind worship.

I’ve been working on a web project at CHF called “Thanks to Chemistry.” Our goal is also to show chemistry’s connection to “you,” but in a completely different way—by telling the stories of chemistry. Real people, real history, real problems. I hope this project will allow people to take a second look at their lives—not in any theological sense, but rather through the lens of the (mostly) ordinary everyday things that help make up life.  

Telling people what to think never works for long. But telling stories sometimes makes people think.

By the way, check out the promotional film at the “Chemistry: All About You” site. All I can say is that it has wonderful production values.

Posted In: Education | History

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