March 16, 2007 Meeting
Public Affairs Lecture
Public Affairs Awardee—
Lee R. Marek
Lee Marek

Department of Chemistry,
University of Illinois at Chicago;
former Teacher, Naperville High School

"Chemistry On the Late Show With David Letterman-Part 1"

Date:  March 16, 2007               Lee with his 'stuff'
Location:    Café La Cave
2777 Mannheim Road
Des Plaines, IL 60018

Cost:  $34.00 for members of ACS and their guests, $36.00 for non-members,
     $17 for students or unemployed

Dinner reservations are required and should be received in the Section Office via phone (847-647-8405), fax (847-647-8364), email (, or web by noon on Wednesday, March 14.   PLEASE HONOR YOUR RESERVATIONS.  The Section must pay for all dinner orders.  No-shows will be billed.


5:00 - 6:00  PM Job Club
5:15 -6:15 PM Topical Group
6:00 - 7:00  PM Social Hour:  Complimentary Hors D'oeuvres served butler style. Cash Bar
7:00  PM Dinner
8:15  PM Public Affairs Award Program

Topic: "Chemistry On the Late Show With David Letterman-Part 1"

Lee R. Marek, Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois at Chicago; former Teacher, Naperville High School

Abstract:  The audience for the David Letterman show is not unlike a classroom full of high school students or college freshman!  It's sitting there daring you to be interesting!  One way to capture attention is to do demonstrations that are exocharmic [to radiate charm -- make you want to watch] and to be a bit weird/eccentric. Good teaching is part knowledge, part preparation and part theater and so is doing science on THE LATE SHOW.  More important you need a frame of mind somewhat off center to survive doing chemistry on national TV.

As Robert Maynard Hutchins said, "My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young & inflame their intellects."  I embrace this idea -- sometimes literally -- both in my classroom, in science programs, and the David Letterman Show!  I use what is called the "Phenomenological" approach to teaching science -- introducing a topic with a demonstration or lab so that students have something concrete on which to focus.  I use demonstrations as exocharmic motivators to captivate student interest and to focus on the day's topic.  To influence high school kids, college freshman, or the general public like the Letterman show audience, you need "presence", to capture their attention.

We live in a world of the 15-second commercial, MTV video, and the National Enquirer. As teaching professionals we need to compete, to show the people that there is something interesting and important in learning; something about which "inquiring minds really do want to know."  It boils down to what William Butler Yeats said, "Education is not in the filling of a pail, but in the lighting of a fire".

I will present a number of clips from the 25 shows I have been on in the last 15 years, including one used on his 10th anniversary show and one that was up for an Emmy award.  These demos will range from the 8 foot ball of fire shooting across the stage, to the Dyn-o-might soap.  I will describe the time I dissolved the set, discuss the 1000 pounds of thermite demo [never done] and show the time the 500 pounds of Oobleck got lose.  There will be a clip of the time I almost took out Bozo on WGN!  If there is time, I will show some of the other work I did with WTTW, FOX, Inside Edition and U.K. TV.  I will also do a few of the simple demos with the audience.

My web site has some demos and more information:

Biography:  Lee Marek received a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois and M.S. degrees in chemistry and in physics from Roosevelt University in Chicago.  He currently teaches Chemistry 101 and does the chemistry demonstrations and teacher programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  He taught chemistry at Naperville North High School for over 30 years.  His students have won national recognition in the International Chemistry Olympiad, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and the Internet Science and Technology Fair.

For the last nine summers he helped run a history of science program in Europe and has helped run over 500 workshops/programs for teachers, students and the general public in the past 25 years.  He was instrumental in starting up and running a teachers alliance group [over 400 teachers] called ChemWest in the Chicago area.  

Among the awards Lee has received are the Presidential Award, ACS's James Bryant Conant Award, the ACS Helen Free Award for Public Outreach, Golden Apple Awardee, Sigma Xi and CMA's National Catalyst Award for Teaching.  Lee has also been a regular on "The David Letterman Show" since 1990 doing science infotainment.  He was a Woodrow Wilson Chemistry Team leader and is now a Flinn Team leader.

Topical Group Meeting (5:15-6:15 PM)

Dr. Jim Shoffner
Science Institute, Columbia College Chicago

"Beyond Forgotten Genius: Education and Information Programs from Dr. Percy Julian's Life and Legacy"

Abstract:   The NOVA film "Forgotten Genius" which chronicles the life and scientific career of Dr. Percy L. Julian and was shown recently on PBS, has inspired several programmatic efforts to use his science and technology triumphs and contributions as a means of learning about science and society. Both the Chemical Heritage Foundation as well as the Chicago Public Schools have launched efforts in this direction. As one of the initiators, a consultant and supporter of the NOVA film project, I have observed these efforts with interest and much satisfaction. I will lift up these programs, as well as other related efforts, while giving a brief summary of the making of the film.

Biography:   Jim Shoffner is a 50- years member of the Society and the Section, a past director of both, as well as a past chair of the Section.  As a member of the ACS Committee on Minority Affairs, he first proposed a celebration of the 100th anniversary of birth of Dr. Julian in 1997, to take place at the Anaheim National Meeting in March 1999.   Concurrently, an all-day celebration in honor of Dr. Julian was organized for April 1999 by the Section's Public Affairs Committee, co-chaired by Jim Shoffner and Barb Moriarty.  Both events took place as scheduled, with representatives from NOVA in attendance.  On the same day as the Section's meeting, held at the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy, and jointly sponsored by the UIC Dept. of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, Dr. Julian's synthesis of physostigmine was dedicated as a National Historic Chemical Landmark at DePauw University.  It was from these meetings that occurred in 1999 that plans were made and timetables drawn which ultimately resulted in the making of the film.

Map and Directions

Parking:   Free


Updated 3/6/07