ChemSemBlog is a new and unique site being developed by Professor Desmond Murray (http://www.andrews.edu/cas/chemistry/faculty/murray_desmond.html) of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, that allows chemistry students to develop ’soft skills in a hard science.’ College students will express their personal experiences and reflections to a general internet audience about talks given by leading chemical scientists. While these invited talks are ’specialist’ in nature, students will be encouraged to use a ‘popular science’ writing style to reach a nonspecialist audience. The blog will also be open to the speakers and general audience for further dialogue and discussion related to the talk.
ChemSemBlog is unique because it is the only internet site that involves communicating advances in the chemical sciences to a public audience by college students. It underscores the critical importance of communicating science in an understandable way to the public in a global society where science and technology pervades all aspects of life as we know it. Many of the global issues, from climate change to renewable energy sources, from medical and agricultural application of stem cells to the burgeoning fields of synthetic biology and nanotechnology, all require some basic understanding of science. Consequently, communication of science to a lay audience is of prime importance. ChemSemBlog is a ‘new media’ way to involve and instruct science students in this ’soft skills’ process, which unfortunately, many ‘hard’ scientists have not proactively engaged in.
ChemSemBlog builds upon a longstanding tradition of Professor Murray’s of incorporating ‘public writing’ into both high school and college chemistry classes. For example, in collaboration with the Benton Spirit Community Newspaper (http://www.bentonspiritnews.com/) two columns were developed: LabTales and SciTech. LabTales are nontechnical descriptive essays written by high school and college students about their research experience and project conducted in their lab courses. SciTech columns are nontechnical ‘popular-science’ styled essays on a wide range of topics dealing with chemicals (drugs, flavors, food, materials, dyes, etc.) in our everyday lives. So blogging is just another medium, format and process for science students to develop their written, nontechnical communication skills. It is a recognition not only of the role that writing plays in developing each students’ own understanding of a subject but also of writings’ necessary function in building a broad scientifically literate society. Furthermore, in a worldwide web environment of universal access to information, ChemSemBlog emphasizes ‘personal experiences and reflections’ and so avoids the all to easy temptation of substituting true writing for ‘cutting and pasting.’
ChemSemBlog is also part of the ‘Public Science’ element of Building Excellence in Science and Technology (BEST, http://www.bestearly.com/), a nonprofit educational organization founded by Professor Murray. BEST (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/note.php?note_id=125720184602) advocates for and provides early research participation opportunities for high school and college students in both curricular and non-curricular settings. As stated above, students involved in BEST curricular projects are all required to describe their research experience in a nontechnical essay for publication in the LabTales column of the Benton Spirit (http://www.bentonspiritnews.com/).
Our newest public science writing project is the 2009 - 2010 Grade 10 Imagine Chemistry assignment in which articles based, in part, on expert interviews, will be published online and in hardcopy. Articles will involve describing the most desired scientific development within the next 10 - 20 years in fields like cancer research, green technologies and others. It will discuss the possible role that chemistry will play in these future developments.