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. 

    A Kid’s Lava Lamp

    Kids, did you ever want to try to make your own lava lamp?  While real lava lamps rely on materials and chemicals for a more advanced age group, you can get a similar effect with simple household ingredients.  Here is what you need: vegetable oil or baby oil, water, food coloring, glitter or small beads, and a glass jar with a lid.  First, fill the jar about a third full of oil.  Next, sprinkle on glitter, sequins, small beads, or any tiny sparklies that catch your eye.  Add water to nearly fill the jar and add a drop or so of food coloring.  Finish filling the jar with water, then screw the lid on tightly.  Flip the jar over.  Flip it back.  Shake it up.  Have fun! 

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

    What's going on?  The oil is less dense than water, so it wants to float on top.  Water is a polar molecule, while oil is nonpolar.  Polar molecules stick to each other, but not to nonpolar molecules.  Even though oil and water are both liquids, they are what chemists call immiscible liquids.  That's a fancy word that means they don't mix.  When you add the food coloring, is it in the oil or the water?  How can you tell?  Is food coloring polar or nonpolar?

    Try this variation. Let the liquids settle then open the jar and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on top. What happens?  Why?  Salt is heavier than water, so when you pour salt on the oil, it sinks to the bottom of the mixture, carrying a blob of oil with it.  In the water, the salt starts to dissolve.  As it dissolves, the salt releases the oil, which floats back up to the top of the water.

    How does a lava lamp work?  Like your oil and water, the "lava" doesn't mix with the liquid that surrounds it.  When it's cool, the lava is a little more dense than the liquid surrounding it.  When the lava rests on the bottom, the light bulb in the lamp warms it up.  As it warms up, the lava expands a little.  When it expands, the lava stays the same weight but it takes up more space, which means that it is less dense.  When it's warm enough, the lava rises up to the top to float.  At the top of the lamp, it cools down, becomes more dense, and sinks once again.  This cycle repeats over and over as the lava warms up and rises, then cools down and sinks.

    A traditional lava lamp consists of a conical metal base with a 40-watt light bulb, and a teardrop-shaped glass container that fits snugly over the base and bulb. Inside this glass container is a combination of colored water or alcohol and a gooey substance consisting mostly of paraffin wax, carbon tetrachloride and mineral oil. There is also a little science lesson about emulsions and specific gravities in each lava lamp, but above all they offer us some fun! 


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    January 2006



    Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine at
    and Michael Pollick at

    Eric Muller at gives the original patent as well as typical homemade mineral oil/alcohol versions.