National Chemistry Week is always an excellent chance to celebrate chemistry and help demonstrate to students and others the relevance of chemistry in our everyday lives.
This year’s theme for NCW is Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry, and I am particularly excited about the opportunities this presents for teaching some fundamental concepts about how we do science. Crime shows that feature forensic science are very popular on television right now. This helps ensure interest on the part of students to learn some of the basics of how chemistry is used to solve mysteries.
The answer to how does chemistry help solve a mystery is very simple. It is through the application of scientific inquiry.
In the parlance for scientific argumentation from the Next Generation Science Standards, this process is presented as:
Claims + Evidence + Reasoning = Explanation
This varies somewhat from the traditional “scientific method” but it is always part of any process of scientific inquiry. It presents a careful analysis of how data is used to come to conclusions.
Claim = A tentative answer to the question or problem based on your observations of the problem. This is generally the role of the hypothesis in the traditional scientific method.
Evidence = The collection of scientific data, facts, research, or observations. Opinions, feelings, assumptions or beliefs are not examples of evidence.
Reasoning = A justification of why or how the evidence supports or refutes your claim. This includes using appropriate scientific principles and logic.
Explanation = If there is consensus that a claim is supported by the all the evidence and reasoning then the claim is accepted as an explanation. Note that the explanation is only as good as the evidence presented. An explanation is not a “proof” and new evidence can change previous explanations.
It is probably important to note that there is not ONE “scientific method”, despite what we might teach in textbooks for beginning science. Scientific inquiry can be a jumble of various steps, but at the heart of it is the use of experimental evidence to validate scientific claims to reach an explanation.
National Chemistry Week this year presents a great opportunity to review the basics of how science provides explanations to mysteries. Check out this ACS presentation on how chemistry helps solve mysteries.
Chemistry fulfills a central role in the gathering of evidence when it comes to solving mysteries. Some of the techniques used to gather evidence from crime scenes include:
✔ Chemical identification of substances
✔ Chromatography and spectroscopy analysis
✔ DNA Testing
ACS National Chemistry Week has a number of education resources to help you explore this topic during NCW or anytime it fits with your curriculum. Check the ACS National Chemistry Week pagesfor a complete listing of resources and activities for your NCW celebration.