Conversations in Science
for K-12 Educators

A program conceived and organized by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Edgewood Sonderegger Science Center.

Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

The Radium Girls and the Firecracker Boys

Dr. Catherine Middlecamp - Director, Chemistry Learning Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

About the conversation:

Our world always has and always will contain radioactive substances.  But only in the past century did humans discover these substances and put them to various uses.  This presentation will interweave two stories of radioactivity in real-world contexts. The first concerns the radium dial workers, women who in the 1920s used radioactive paint to create glow-in-the-dark watches.  The second relates to Edward Teller, who along with other nuclear scientists in the 1950s proposed to create a harbor in Alaska using thermonuclear devices (Project Plowshare).  These stories connect with issues relevant now and in the years to come. They also serve as examples of how to engage students by integrating chemistry and culture in the classroom.

About the presenter:

Dr. Cathy Middlecamp holds a joint appointment in Chemistry and in the Integrated Liberal Studies Program at the UW-Madison. Her recent accomplishments include being elected as a Fellow of the AAAS (2003) and a Fellow of the Association for Women in Science (2004), receiving the Alliant Underkofler Excellence in Teaching from the University of Wisconsin System (2004), and being selected as the recipient of the 2006 Award of the American Chemical Society for Encouraging Women in Careers in the Chemical Sciences. 

For over a decade, Middlecamp has written for the Chemistry in Context , a project of the American Chemical Society. She is the lead author on the chapters on air quality, acid rain, polymers, and nuclear chemistry. She also is a senior associate for the national SENCER project, Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities and has taught for six years on the faculty of the SENCER Summer Institute at Santa Clara University. 

At the UW, Middlecamp teaches the general chemistry course for non-science majors as well as an upper level course in ILS, "The Radium Girls and the Firecracker Boys." She also designed and co-teaches "Environmental Chemistry and Ethnicity", the only chemistry course in the UW System that meets the state-wide ethnic studies requirement.

Middlecamp did her undergraduate studies at Cornell University (1968-72), graduating Phi Beta Kappa and with distinction in all subjects.  She was awarded a Danforth Fellowship for graduate study and earned her doctorate in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976. She also holds a masters degree in Education and the rank of sandan (third degree black belt) in aikido.

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