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Science Weeks and Years

National Science Week, 13-21 August 2011
National Science Week (13-21 August) is now upon us, with more than one thousand events across the country. Also unfolding, with perhaps less publicity, is the International Year of Chemistry. Both foster public awareness of science and technology and associated careers.

International Year of Chemistry 2011

The United Nations declared 2011 the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) under the unifying theme ‘Chemistry—Our Life, Our Future’. Here, the International Year of Chemistry celebrates the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind, with opportunities for public participation (particularly for young people and women), at the local, regional, national and international levels. The IYC Opening Ceremony was preceded by the first IYC 2011 global activity celebrating women in chemistry.

The Year also celebrates the 100th anniversary of Madame Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry and the founding of the then International Association of Chemical Societies. During the IYC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is led by its first female president. As part of the IYC, prominent scientists highlight advances in chemistry and its role in solving major problems faced by humanity in energy, food, water and health.

For Australia, a coordinating body is the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI). As well as supporting the professional needs and interests of its members, the Institute advocates the importance of chemistry to the public, to educational institutions, to industry, and to government. Each year in July, the RACI produces National Chemistry Week, a campaign that promotes chemistry to the general public, and this year’s week has recently concluded.

When launching the IYC in Australia during February, Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr noted that the Excellence in Research for Australia 2010 National Report confirmed that chemistry is an area of notable strength for Australia. According to the report, of the research units assessed in this area, 86 per cent were rated at world standard or above. The Australian Academy of Science through the National Committee for Chemistry also promotes the IYC.

International Week of Science and Peace

Globally, the International Week of Science and Peace has been observed every November since 1986. The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 43/61 in December 1988, which proclaims the “International Week of Science and Peace”, to take place each year during the week in which 11 November falls. The associated “World Science Day for Peace and Development” is on 10 November 2011. However, there appears to be minimal local commemoration.

National Science Week 2011 and Inspiring Australia

On the other hand, Australia’s National Science Week (13–21 August 2011) provides many public events across the nation with ongoing support from the Federal Government and key science industry bodies like the CSIRO, with the ABC and the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). The Week aims to take science into schools, workplaces, cultural organisations, community groups, shopping centres and public spaces. The event will engage people across Australia with scientific displays, shows, theatrical events, debates, workshops, and projects with an aim to celebrate science in all its forms and benefits.

National Science Week now serves as part of the Inspiring Australia program, which received 2011–12 Budget funding of $21 million over 3 years. In February 2010, the report Inspiring Australia: a national strategy for engagement with the sciences was launched by Innovation Minister Carr. The report was the first national strategy for science communication in Australia. The Australian Government’s Science portal website provides details of our national capabilities. Also note that the Royal Institution of Australia has programs in public science education, akin to a national science exchange that support Science Week.

Despite the important ideas behind National Science Week, and its undoubted successes, there remains the question of whether it is essentially ‘preaching to the converted.’ Those who are already in some way interested in or knowledgeable about science take advantage of what is on offer, but how is Australia’s general science education faring? And how good is the public’s level of scientific awareness, at a time when scientific findings underpin many political decisions and areas of national discourse? These questions may form part of the Inspiring Australia agenda into the years ahead.

(Image source: Australia's Chief Scientist)
Tags: science