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A Periodic Table of the Moles: Building Bridges to Native American Students
MRIC 2004/05

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"A Periodic Table of the Moles: Building Bridges to Native American Students"

October 19 
Nick Natale - Chemistry

Abstract: The public image of chemistry is not so positive. What's the first word you associate with "chemical"? (usually: toxic). The American Chemical Society's (ACS) National Chemistry Week (NCW) was an idea invented by George Pimentel and implemented by Helen Free, to get the word out on the positive contributions of chemists and chemistry. For the last decade we have been involved with NCW, highlighting positive things that chemistry contributes. For example, one place chemistry is usually mentioned in a positive light is on the sports page, and our program "The Chemistry of winning Teams" reminded the general public that chemistry is involved in making protective sports equipment.

Native Americans are underrepresented in science and engineering. When we were planning our National Chemistry Week activities for 2001, we put some thought into how to include Native American students and teachers in our activities. Using a Tony Hillerman murder mystery novel as a lead reference, we developed a theme as a focus for our activities "A Periodic Table of the Moles". The mole is the unit which chemists use to discuss molecules, and has also become the unofficial mascot of the ACS. The mole is also an animal in Native American creation stories. Southwest tribes have gained renown for their skill as sculptors, and small mole sculptures are available of numerous minerals, all of which have well known chemical compositions.

We've collected quite a few of these sculptures, and arranged them in an approximate periodic table to emphasize the chemical nature of materials, this is on permanent display in Renfrew Hall. We have involved HOIST students in our programs, and one of our students, Feather Broncheau, became the first Native American UI student to make a presentation at a National ACS Meeting. This year's NCW theme is health. We've worked with Solo Greene of the Nez Perce Environmental Restoration and Waste Management program, to chemically analyze one of the traditional herbal medicines. What I think is noteworthy is that we involved Nez Perce students Jacob Taylor and Trina Villalobos in the study. The long range goal is to mentor students to become teachers and role models. I'll show you lots of pictures of moles, and how a chemist goes about studying the chemical composition of an herbal medicine.

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