‘Molecular Educators’ Team Wins Prestigious Royal Society Of Chemistry Education Prize

— UCLA Professor’s curious daughters inspire books on chemistry for children —

A team led by a UCLA chemistry professor, who was inspired to create educational books for kids after his daughter quizzed him about the chemicals in her food, are being recognized with a prestigious award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Professor Neil Garg worked closely with Dan Caspi, of IT firm, Element26, to create and publish three organic chemistry coloring books and a children’s activity book, which aim to improve scientific literacy among children and non-scientist adults.

The workbooks – of which Neil’s daughters Elaina Garg, 14, and Kaylie Garg, nine, are co-authors – materialized after Kaylie asked her father about the chemical makeup of her dinner.

Neil said: “My daughter was giving me a hard time about her food. When she tried a new dish, she would look at me sceptically and say, ‘does this have chemicals in it?’. As a chemistry professor, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to help Kaylie realise how important chemicals are in our everyday lives.

“We started to look up chemicals together and we had a lot of fun with it. Given that my daughters love to draw, and were enjoying learning about science, it sparked the idea to create a chemistry coloring book.

“We drew the chemical structures and worked with an artist who rendered our images into cartoons, to make it appealing to kids. The books have been so well-received, and we’ve donated thousands of them to schools.”

The children’s books are among a suite of educational resources created by Neil and Dan – who first met while studying chemistry at graduate school. Over the past six years, they have worked together with teams of students and researchers to invent free, interactive technologies which help teach organic chemistry concepts, and have been used online by more than 60,000 people in 165 countries across the globe.

Neil said: “I would regularly make educational resources for students as part of my job, but it was Dan who encouraged me to put them online and share them with the world. We’re both passionate about chemistry and Dan also has IT expertise, so our collaboration just works.

“I started to get students involved in the creative process – we wanted to find ways to make chemistry fun and engaging and change any negative perceptions of the subject. As a team we’ve created several interactive tools, including QR Chem (qrchem.net), which allows students to visualize molecules by scanning a QR code that links to interactive 3D chemical structures.”

This week [w/c 22 November 2021], Neil, his daughters, Elaina and Kaylie, Dan, and 24 other team members involved in creating the resources have been announced collective winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Horizon Prizes for Education for their outstanding contribution to chemical science education.

The Horizon Prizes for Education celebrate ground-breaking innovations and initiatives that mark a step change in education.

Neil said: “It’s an honour to receive A Horizon Prize for Education from the Royal Society of Chemistry. It’s hugely rewarding to know that our resources are helping people to learn across the world, and we’d like to extend a huge thank you to them for this wonderful recognition.”

Dan said: “What’s special about this is the team nature of this project, the fact that we have collaborated with students, chemistry professionals and even Neil’s own children to create the resources. We’re over the moon to receive the prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry, and hope that our resources are going some way to help improve both the value of chemical education and public perception of organic chemistry.”

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Our educators are some of the most important people in the sciences, nurturing and inspiring the next generation of talent who ultimately will help us further advance understanding of the world around us and help solve some of immense challenges facing the world today and tomorrow.

“The Molecular Educators Team have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the chemical sciences, and it is our honour to celebrate their considerable contribution.”

Horizon Prizes for Education celebrate ground-breaking innovations and initiatives that mark a step change in education. This could include teaching programmes or techniques, research breakthroughs or innovative technology.

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. In 2019, the organisation announced the biggest overhaul of this portfolio in its history, designed to better reflect modern scientific work and culture.

For more information about the RSC’s revised Prizes portfolio, visit rsc.li/prizes.

Discover the Molecular Educators’ resources here: https://garg.chem.ucla.edu/

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