Following in the footsteps of two other University of Wisconsin professors, one chemistry professor hopes to continue teaching people chemistry as president of the largest national science organization.
UW professor Bassam Shakhashiri, who is also known for his annual Christmas lecture, was elected president of the American Chemical Society Nov. 12.
The ACS is the largest science organization in the nation, with more than 161,000 members, Shakhashiri said. The organization is focused on spreading the word about chemistry as the central science and the importance of chemistry education.
“We live in a world made of chemicals … that’s why we need to learn about chemicals,” Shakhashiri said.
The ACS helps set the standards for the professional training of chemists, and Shakhashiri said not all universities are certified to train professional chemists by the ACS.
Another thing the ACS does is advise the legislative and executive branches of the federal government regarding policy, he said.
Shakashiri will serve as president-elect in 2011, before he becomes president in 2012 and immediate past-president in 2013. He said 2012 will be his 50th year as a member of the ACS, which he joined as a graduate student.
Being elected president is a great honor for Shakhashiri, not only to himself, but also to the Chemistry department at UW, he said.
Professor Farrington Daniels, of whom one portion of the Chemistry building is named after, was the first UW professor to serve as ACS President upon his election in 1952.
Most recently, UW professor emeritus Charles Casey served as ACS President in 2004 and said he thinks Shakhashiri will see success as president because of his passion for teaching people about Chemistry.
“A lot of [being president] is convincing people Chemistry is important,” Casey said. “He’s been very good at outreach activities.”
Among those outreach activities, Shakhashiri has published a four-volume book series devoted to demonstrations, which he said are directed toward teachers.
Shakhashiri is most famous among students for his Christmas lecture though, which he has held annually on campus since arriving 40 years ago.
He said the lecture started as a way to help his freshman Chemistry lecture review for the final exam in the fall, while giving the students a preview of what was to come in the spring semester.
This year’s lecture will be held Dec. 4-5 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Tickets for the event are free, but are unfortunately already sold out.
Shakhashiri said the lecture is taped and broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television and appears on PBS affiliates around the country.
Shakhashiri’s election will benefit the ACS because of his long history of advocating for teaching science, UW professor Laura Kiessling said, especially among children.
For Shakhashiri though, the election will highlight his passion for teaching students, since the position requires domestic and international travel. He is still working out the details with UW’s administration regarding how to manage his responsibilities, but said the benefits of the position are important to him.
“It’s special and heartwarming,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to do what’s best for science … and society.”