The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements (Full-Scale Development)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 to Saturday, August 31, 2013
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Broadcast Media, Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media, Public Programs, Museum and Science Center Programs
Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Adults | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators
Chemistry | History/policy/law | Nature of science
Access and Inclusion: 
Filmmakers Collaborative, Inc., Moreno/Lyons Productions, Multimedia Research
Description or Abstract: 

This multimedia project tells the human story of the long, continuing quest to identify, understand, and organize the basic building blocks of matter leading to the Periodic Table of Elements. Project deliverables include a two hour PBS documentary; a website on the Periodic Table and discovery of the elements; a Teacher\'s Guide; and an Outreach Plan led by the St. Louis Science Center and nine other science centers. The target audiences are adults with an interest in science, inner-city youth, and high school chemistry teachers and their students. Partners include Moreno/Lyons Productions, the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Chemical Heritage Foundation; the St. Louis Science Center; and Oregon Public Broadcasting. The national broadcast and outreach activities are intended to complement the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) 2011, furthering the opportunity to enhance the public understanding of chemistry. The goal of the project is to reveal science as an intensely human process of discovery through stories of some of the greatest scientists. The two-hour PBS special will tell a "detective story" of chemistry, stretching from the ancient alchemists to today's efforts to find stable new forms of matter. Among key characters will be Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, Humphry Davy, Dmitrii Mendeleev, Marie Curie, Harry Moseley, and Glenn Seaborg. The program will show both their discoveries and the creative process, using reenactments shot with working replicas of their original lab equipment. Interwoven with history will be segments on modern chemical research and the real-world consequences of the discoveries. A two-part Outreach Plan is aimed at engaging inner-city youths through a network of ten science centers led by the St. Louis Science Center and at reaching a broader audience through events, activities, and publications offered by ACS during National Chemistry Week and IYC 2011. The television program is projected to reach three million viewers during its multiple broadcasts over premiere week, increasing to five million or more with subsequent repeat broadcasts and DVD distribution. It is estimated that 6,500 underrepresented urban teens will participate in the hands-on activities in the ten science centers during IYC 2011. The website is intended to become a resource extending the reach and impact of the project for a decade or more. The summative evaluation will assess the extent to which the project accomplishes the goals of enhancing public understanding of chemistry, affecting public attitudes toward chemistry and chemists, and improving the understanding of the nature of science. Three studies will be conducted. The first will be an in-depth evaluation of the program and Web site with a sample of 150 adult PBS viewers using a two-group post-test randomized study design. The second study will evaluate the outreach effort with diverse audiences at the local level prior to and during National Chemistry Week using on site observations, surveys, and interviews to capture participant feedback at local events. The third study will evaluate high school educators' use of the Teacher's Edition & Guide.

Funding Program: 
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Kathryn DietzKathryn DietzPrincipal Investigator
Bonnie WaltchBonnie WaltchFormer Principal Investigator
Stephen LyonsStephen LyonsCo-Principal Investigator
Judy KassJudy KassCo-Principal Investigator
Barbara FlaggEvaluator

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