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. 

    Bio-Bag Experiments

    Kids, what kind of trash bag breaks down fastest? As you probably know, trash is a weighty (pun intended) topic in this country. With only so much landfill space available, chemists and environmentalists are looking to other means of disposing trash. Most of the plastic bags in landfills are not environmentally friendly because they take many years to completely degrade.

    In this experiment the biodegradability of several plastic bags, brown paper bags, and newspaper are tested in different environmental conditions: direct sunlight, a mulch pile (to simulate an ‘active’ landfill), a leaf pile (to simulate a dry landfill), in tap water (to simulate a lake), and in saltwater (to simulate an ocean). You’ll have to plan ahead because results take at least three months.  Also get an okay from your parent or guardian before starting. Trust me, adults will not be amused to come home and find that you've begun this without their knowledge. Besides you may need their help.

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


    • Ten plastic trash bags marketed as biodegradable.  Use five each of two different brands as follows.  NOTE!  If the bags contain polyethylene plastic they are not biodegradable, but rather a plastic mixed with a chemical additive that breaks the plastic molecular structure and disintegrates. This is not considered to be overall an eco-friendly process. Eco-friendly vendor certifications should be ASTM D6400 and/or DIN EN13432. If the price of the biodegradable plastic bag is close to that of plastic bags, then they probably have the additive (they may say “oxo” or “oxy” in the name). 
    • 5 nonbiodegradable plastic bags
    • 3 nets (plastic or cotton)
    • wire or string
    • 6 wooden posts
    • 5 brown paper bags
    • 5 pages of newspaper
    • a mulch pile 4 feet (120 cm) high consisting of grass, leaves, rotting vegetables, fertilizer, and compost starter culture in a 3-foot (1 meter) diameter ring made of wire fencing
    • tap water
    • a leaf pile 3 feet (1 m) high
    • 10 plastic containers (½ gallon (2 liters) each)
    • saltwater (15% by volume)


    1. Fold and secure the plastic bags on top of a net with wire or string and identify them. Tie a wooden post at each end of the net and place each post into the ground, leaving the plastic bags exposed to the sun. Do the same with one paper bag and a page of newspaper.
    2. Repeat step 1 by placing the same types of bags in the middle of a mulch pile. Wet the pile thoroughly with water.
    3. Repeat step 1 by placing the bags in the middle of the leaf pile.
    4. Place the bags into five separate containers of tap water and saltwater.
    5. Record the changes that occur upon removal after at least 3 months; photos are useful.


    1. Did any of the materials decompose? If so, which decomposed most thoroughly?
    2. Was the rate of degradation greatest in the sunlight, mulch pile, leaf pile, tap water, or saltwater environments?
    3. Did the plastic bags that were advertised as biodegradable appear any different from the nonbiodegradable bags?


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    February 2012


    Resources & References:
    Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Science Fair Projects © 2003 by Nancy K. O'Leary and Susan Shelly. Alpha Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc.