Bassam Z. Shakhashiri’s Summer Forum makes science fun

University of Wisconsin Professor Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is a leader in national science policy, but he also has a knack for communicating with non-scientists. He’s well known for his annual entertainment program “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery, In the Lab of Shakhashiri,” where he wears a T-shirt that says “Science Is Fun.”

Shakhashiri will find yet another way to make science fun in his course “Chemistry and Society,” which UW-Madison offers for free as part of its 2015 Summer Forums. It will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6-8 p.m., from June 16 to July 9 at 1315 Chemistry Building, 1101 University Ave. Participants will watch demonstrations, engage in discussions with guest experts, and learn how science relates to their everyday lives.

“The idea is to present the fundamentals of chemistry in a manner that non-science students can appreciate,” says Shakhashiri. “We will discuss such topics as water quality, climate change, air pollution, the chemistry of the brain, and why we crave certain foods, which all have chemistry and science as the basis.”

Healthy conversations

As part of UW-Madison’s Summer Forums, “Chemistry and Society” will provide a unique setting for these discussions. Every year, the free programs welcome both university students and adults, who get to know each other through lively classroom experiences. Along with “Chemistry and Society,” this year’s other Summer Forum is “Chinese Feng Shui and Brush Painting” (July 14-August 6).

Shakhashiri looks forward to engaging with adult community members who don’t normally enroll in his UW classes. He’s planning assignments that will help them better communicate with their neighbors about pressing scientific issues.

“If we talk about the science of climate change, for example, one assignment would be to ask participants to prepare a one-pager with an outline and some specifics as to how they would talk to their neighbors about climate change’s effect on our daily lives. It would be a way to have healthy conversations about important scientific issues that confront us in society.”

Shakhashiri is in his 45th year as a faculty member and has lost none of his passion for teaching.

“I care deeply about helping the public appreciate what science and technology can do for society,” he says, “and what the limitations are.”