LAFAYETTE -- The California local section of the American Chemical Society took leadership to new heights with four ChemLuminary Awards announced at the annual ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia on Aug. 21.

Meanwhile, 2,963 miles away at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, earning the national ACS nod for "Best Activity or Program in a Local Section Stimulating Membership Involvement" triggered a celebration louder than the Liberty Bell ever was.

The Science Cafés' recognition highlighted a concept that began in an Orinda restaurant.

Marinda Wu, the American Chemical Society's president-elect in 2012, was the revolutionary thinker whose Petri dish gatherings at local eateries for scientific shop talk grew to become a robust program on the library's calendar. Monthly chemical society-library collaborative meetings feature expert speakers who unpack the scientific marvels in everything from pianos to chocolate to origami to Civil War-era medicine.

Library foundation President Kathy Merchant heads the small but mighty steamship of loyal staff and volunteers who recruit the speakers and host the events.

Thrilled at the announcement, Merchant set off a volley of "Woo-Hoo!" emails between Wu, Dr. Margaret Race (an ecologist with the Mountain View-based SETI Institute and an early partner in the Science Cafés) and countless luminaries involved in the Science Cafés' success.


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Bryan Balazs, chairman of the local American Chemical Society section during the 2011 year, had special praise for Wu's efforts in Lamorinda.

"Marinda was the sole driving force behind getting the collaboration set up between our section and the Lafayette Library on the monthly Science Cafes," Balazs said. "The other three awards were the result of efforts by numerous people."

Balazs called attention to the chapter's long-standing commitment to increasing diversity and establishing the importance of chemistry in an ever-changing technological society.

Achieving the chapter's goals means engaging in partnerships with like-minded organizations that reach out to underserved communities, search for new methods to engage women and young girls in science, or make connections between science and everyday life.

The additional three ChemLuminary awards honored the California chapter for a successful National Chemistry Week, active Younger and Women Chemists groups, an Earth Day celebration at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez and a series of Technology Milestones in Chemistry posters created for international display.

Although there is no monetary value attached to the awards, Balazs said the recent success adds direction to future national-level grant requests.

"When we find out what works and what doesn't, this information allows our volunteers to be more targeted," he said.

Expressing minor frustration with the lack of attention his 3,500-member chapter receives, he said the exposure is a welcome change.

Merchant, elated at achieving her professional goal -- to make the Lafayette library an increasingly large part of the community heartbeat -- wasted no time ringing the bell for upcoming Science Cafés.

"We have stargazing, stem cells, biofuels ... " she listed in an e-blast.

Program Director Tricia Brazil joined the clamor, sending real-time e-mails during an early October event, announcing, "The robotic surgeon is already here and people are playing with it and are simply astounded!"

For a complete schedule of library activities, including the award-winning Science Cafés, visit www.lafayettelib.org/

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