In the lab of Shakhashiri

1 minute read

Nature this week profiles Hoffman:Shakhashiri:2012 my University of Wisconsin-Madison colleague Bassam Shakhashiri, now president of the American Chemical Society. Around here he is most famous for his activism in science education and outreach, which goes back many years. The profile discusses how Shakhashiri started in education:

Science education should aim to share the beauty, challenges and rewards of open enquiry and help people to avoid sham, quackery and unproven conjecture. Interacting with students deepens my own understanding of science and of the process of learning science. When I joined the University of WisconsinMadison as a faculty member in 1970, my mission was to improve undergraduate chemistry education for all students, not just for science majors. In 1984, I became the assistant director for science and engineering education at the US National Science Foundation, after those programmes were almost phased out early in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. I rebuilt the programmes and created new ones. When I returned to the University of WisconsinMadison in 1990, I worked on science-literacy initiatives that focused on classroom instruction and the public appreciation of science.

He gives an amazing show, full of chemical and physical tricks. It is so interesting how masters of science education and outreach leverage the advantages of their fields to find different ways to hit broader audiences. A chemist like Shakhashiri can do tricks like a magician on a stage; an astronomer like Neil deGrasse Tyson (recently profiled by Carl Zimmer) can take people on a virtual voyage through the universe. A physicist like Brian Greene can twist space or look inward to the smallest particles; a neurologist like Oliver Sacks can bring you on rounds to hear the stories of the strangest patients.