Fresno’s Link to Chemistry Week

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George Pimentel’s favorite portrait from the 1980s, taken in his lab at UC Berkeley (courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).

By George B. Kauffman

In his official proclamation, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand cited the following reasons for declaring October 22–28 National Chemistry Week (NCW) in the City of Fresno:

  • Chemistry is essential for meeting our basic needs, improving the quality of our lives and maintaining a strong economy.
  • Citizens are increasingly called upon to make decisions on political, scientific and technological issues in which chemistry plays a central part.
  • The late Prof. George C. Pimentel of UC Berkeley, who originated the idea of National Chemistry Day, which evolved into National Chemistry Week, was a native of Fresno.
  • America’s chemists and chemical engineers wish to communicate with the public about the many benefits that chemistry brings to our lives and to respond to the public fears about the risks associated in the popular mind with chemistry and chemicals.

NCW has a special significance for Fresnans. NCW was the brainchild of award-winning George Claude Pimentel (1922–1989), who discovered the first chemical laser and designed an instrument on the Mars Mariner 6 spacecraft. He was born on the family ranch in Rolinda about 10 miles west of Fresno.

George’s mother, Lorraine Alice Pimentel (née Laval), was a member of one of Fresno’s prominent early families. Her brother, from whom George received his middle name, was photographer Claude (“Pop”) Laval, who took more than 100,000 pictures of the San Joaquin Valley. In 1996, a pictorial historical calendar, “Valley Times Remembered,” was produced by Bonnie Simonian of Simonian Farms from Pop’s photos.

George and brother Joe spent their early years in Fresno, visiting the Laval family house (656 Van Ness Ave.), where their mother, a Fresno County District Attorney’s Office court reporter, had lived. George later saw that the Christmas tree he had planted in the front yard was higher than the house and pushing up the foundations.

National Chemistry Week, now celebrating its 30th year, an American Chemical Society (ACS) community outreach program, increases media and public awareness and provides reliable resources for promoting interest in chemistry and science to children and young adults. It reaches millions of people via print, radio, television, Internet and in person with demonstrations, hands-on activities, open houses, contests, workshops, exhibits, classroom visits and positive messages about the contributions of chemistry to society.

Sponsored by the 163,000-member ACS, the world’s largest scientific organization, NCW is celebrated annually during the fourth week in October by the society’s 187 local sections, educators, practicing chemists, industrialists and others dedicated to chemistry.

The theme of this year’s NCW is “Chemistry Rocks!, the geochemistry of rocks.” Scientific and educational magazines and newspapers are devoting their October issues to NCW activities. ChemMatters, Celebrating Chemistry and the Journal of Chemical Education feature NCW-related topics.

ACS is sponsoring a K-12 national poster contest. Valley parents, students, educators, ACS and non-ACS media coordinators, and industry representatives can obtain further information and NCW materials at www.chemistry. org/ncw.

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George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society,