Championing science – the role chemistry plays in our world

Understanding chemistry is easier than it appears. That’s what Dr. Matthew Lukeman wants people to know.

Lukeman, Head of the Department of Chemistry, was recently nominated for a Discovery Centre Science Champion Award by colleagues Drs. Jeff Banks and Amitabh Jha for his work promoting science and technology to the public above and beyond the normal avenues of communication. His work includes developing the course Chemistry in Our World, a Speaker Series tour about pseudoscience in the media, and teaching chemistry demonstrations to students.

Chemistry in Our World aims to discuss the role chemistry plays in society, focusing less on fundamental chemistry applications, says Lukeman. “It’s about looking at real world applications and how chemistry is used and misused in the media.” The class of over 300 students is one of the largest offered at Acadia and draws in students from all disciplines.

As part of a Speaker Series tour, sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Chemistry – Maritime Section, Lukeman spoke over 15 times across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island for crowds of 20-200 people. The talk, The Sky is Falling! Or is it? Separating Fact from Fiction in Our Chemical World, addressed pseudoscience in the media.  “I took a lot of examples from the media that were talking about certain chemicals being really harmful, and I separated them from what was real and what wasn’t,” says Lukeman. “It’s a topic people are very passionate about, and its interesting hearing everyone’s perspectives on it and how they live their lives.”

On top of teaching, researching, presenting, and spending time with his family, Lukeman somehow manages to find time to do chemistry demonstrations for youngsters. He does about a dozen chemistry demos a year to groups of children right up to the high school level in schools or summer camps, where he makes ice cream, burns things, and even blows things up. Renovations to Huggins Science Hall and Elliott Hall have slowed down Lukeman’s ability to give his normal number of demonstrations this year, but when renovations are complete, he will be able to continue his outreach with even more capacity than before. The learning labs are already operational he says and it’s made a world of difference. “We agreed as a department to reduce our office space to allow for as much lab space as possible.” Adding, “It has created more services for our students, and will allow us to do a better job teaching.”

“We can provide research experience for more students. There are three different courses that focus on having students complete primary research. They aren’t classroom based at all, instead they spend six hours a week in a lab doing primary research with the professor.”

Lukeman’s commitment to providing outreach and understanding to the sciences is evident in the work he does, and it comes as no surprise to those he works with that he would be nominated for the award. “I’ve worked with Matt for many years,” says Dr. Jeff Banks, Director of Open Acadia and a professor in the Chemistry Department. “His commitment to creating an inclusive learning environment for everyone is incredibly important. Chemistry plays such a large role in our everyday world, it’s important that people understand this so that they can make informed decisions.”

The Discovery Awards take place on November 23, 2017, at the Cunard Centre.

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