Outreach and Education Division

    The EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIVISION supports chemistry education at all levels, including K-12, college, and adult/continuing education. It maintains liaisons to the Chicago Public Schools and the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT). The Division engages the general public in chemistry-related educational activities, participates in ACS activities at the annual Illinois State Fair, and publicizes all events and news-related content. The division oversees the annual Project SEED program for the Section as well as the Project SEED scholarships. The Division also assists public officials and other community bodies concerning chemistry-related matters. The Education and Outreach Division includes the Education, Outreach, Project SEED, and Public Affairs Committees.

    The EDUCATION COMMITTEE provides chemistry-related educational programs and information to learners of all ages and actively engages with educators at the pre-K-12 and college levels. Subcommittees include:

    • AACT Liaison
    • College Education Subcommittee
    • Continuing Education Subcommittee
    • Chicago School Board Liaison
    • K - 12 Education Subcommittee


    The PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE ensures that section members and public officials and bodies are informed of matters where the knowledge and practice of chemistry is of substantial public importance. These matters can include government issues, environmental issues and the social responsibility of chemists. The Public Affairs Committee gives the Public Affairs Award biennially.

    The OUTREACH COMMITTEE engages the general public, educators and children in chemistry-related educational activities and participates in many different types of events around the greater Chicago area.   Subcommittees include:

    • Community Activities Subcommittee
    • Illinois State Fair Subcommittee


    PROJECT SEED COMMITTEE identifies interested low-income and/or minority high school junior and senior students who are interested in participating in a paid summer research experience with  a college or university faculty member.  It supports financial and logistical concerns for the student/ faculty relationships and communicating  relevant program information to the national ACS organization.  The committee is also responsible for distributing Project SEED awards to support the internships. 

    Ripening Fruit

    Kids, is a tomato a vegetable or a fruit?  Tomatoes are a fruit and, in fact, they are more like berries than any other fruit. Like all berries, they are wonderful when in season but mediocre when not.  The problems with tomatoes are that their season is very short and that they don't like to travel.  The same travel part can be said for bananas.  And avocados, and more.  Tomatoes and many other fruits would never make the trip to the market when ripe.  After all, their job is to rot and deliver seeds.

    Please note:  All chemicals and experiments can entail an element of risk, and no experiments should be performed without proper adult supervision.

    Most commercial tomatoes are picked at the “breaker” stage when they have reached full size but have only a hint of red/tan/pink visible.  So how is it that they're all an appealing red color by the time they all get to the market?  After washing, sorting, sizing and packing, tomatoes are moved to an airtight room where they are exposed to a "ripening" agent.  This agent is ethylene (C2H4) gas.  Ethylene is a hydrocarbon that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables.  As some fruits and vegetables mature, they produce their own ethylene, which continues the ripening process.  Without ethylene, some items, such as bananas, would never ripen. Bananas are picked before they are mature enough to produce their own ethylene.  After their journey from Central or South America up to here, they are placed in special rooms, which are then filled with ethylene to trigger the ripening process.  The bananas are then sent to supermarkets, where they continue to ripen themselves by producing their own ethylene gas, going from the unripe green stages to the ready-to-eat yellow stage.

    You can use a similar process to help ripen some fruit at home.  For those that will ripen after harvest (only some, like avocados, can ripen after harvest; others, like pineapples, cannot), try this:  Place a green tomato or hard avocado in a paper bag.  Add a yellow banana or an apple and close.  The banana or apple will give off their own ethylene gas and therefore help ripen the unripe fruit.  Put similar unripe items into a bowl alone for comparison.  These will also eventually ripen because fruits produce their own natural ethylene, but it will take longer.  Wait several days, observing your fruit each day during the process.  Occasionally we observe the detrimental effects of ethylene.  For example, it can wilt flowers!  Bananas and other ethylene-producers should therefore be kept away from fresh-cut flowers.  Of course, you could intentionally try this in another experiment.

    Ethylene producing fruits include apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, guava, honeydew, kiwi, mango, nectarines, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, plantains, plums, and tomatoes.  The experts say to keep supermarket tomatoes out of direct sunlight, and to never put them in the refrigerator.  Below 50°F a volatile flavor compound called hexenal flips itself off like a chemical switch — permanently.


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    June 2004