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Open Access The Chemist, that Madman! How Children Perceive Science

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He is grown-up, not young, often bald, strictly male, often a chemist, wearing odd clothes and working on mysterious things, conducting projects which sometimes help save the world, sometimes harm our natural environment. He lives and works – often into the small hours – in a grey laboratory, alone, no colleagues, utterly isolated from the outside world. His 'space' looks like a laboratory equipped with test tubes, with reactive substances but also magic potions; mostly a windowless space, and any windows there are have iron bars. This is how, broadly speaking, and stereotypically, children see scientists. Chemistry and biology are the two most popular branches. Only rarely do we associate these images – which appear to be a simple figment of a child's imagination – to the problem of staff shortages in the 'MINT' sectors in Switzerland and to the shortfall in the number of women scientists. Nonetheless, some of the ideas presented in this article suggest that a child's outlook on science, fairly deep-rooted from as early as 9 or 10 years of age (and surprisingly unchanged by the time these kids reach secondary school) may have an impact on their future career choices. L'ideatorio, at Università della Svizzera italiana, is committed to counteracting this distorted view, in particular by creating particular spaces where children can meet science – not a 'crazy', but a normal and also female, science. In these spaces, chemistry is not synonymous with bad smells and pollution, but with benefits and discovery.He is grown-up, not young, often bald, strictly male, often a chemist, wearing odd clothes and working on mysterious things, conducting projects which sometimes help save the world, sometimes harm our natural environment. He lives and works – often into the small hours – in a grey laboratory, alone, no colleagues, utterly isolated from the outside world. His 'space' looks like a laboratory equipped with test tubes, with reactive substances but also magic potions; mostly a windowless space, and any windows there are have iron bars. This is how, broadly speaking, and stereotypically, children see scientists. Chemistry and biology are the two most popular branches. Only rarely do we associate these images – which appear to be a simple figment of a child's imagination – to the problem of staff shortages in the 'MINT' sectors in Switzerland and to the shortfall in the number of women scientists. Nonetheless, some of the ideas presented in this article suggest that a child's outlook on science, fairly deep-rooted from as early as 9 or 10 years of age (and surprisingly unchanged by the time these kids reach secondary school) may have an impact on their future career choices. L'ideatorio, at Università della Svizzera italiana, is committed to counteracting this distorted view, in particular by creating particular spaces where children can meet science – not a 'crazy', but a normal and also female, science. In these spaces, chemistry is not synonymous with bad smells and pollution, but with benefits and discovery.
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Keywords: CHILDREN AND CHEMISTRY; PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF SCIENCE; SCIENCE AND SOCIETY

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: L'ideatorio Università della Svizzera italiana Via Lambertenghi 10a CH-6900 Lugano, Switzerland 2: L'ideatorio Università della Svizzera italiana Via Lambertenghi 10a CH-6900 Lugano, Switzerland. [email protected]

Publication date: November 1, 2012

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  • International Journal for Chemistry and Official Membership Journal of the Swiss Chemical Society (SCS) and its Divisions

    CHIMIA, a scientific journal for chemistry in the broadest sense, is published 10 times a year and covers the interests of a wide and diverse readership. Contributions from all fields of chemistry and related areas are considered for publication in the form of Review Articles and Notes. A characteristic feature of CHIMIA are the thematic issues, each devoted to an area of great current significance.

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