Jennifer L. Maclachlan is the Managing Director of PID Analyzers, LLC and is the 2018 NESACS Volunteer of the Year recipient, the 2021 recipient of the ACS Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the 2022 recipient of the ACS National Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry to the Public.
Currently Jennifer serves on the NESACS Public Relations Committee as a Member and the NESACS Board of Publications as a Member. In 2024, Jennifer will serve NESACS as an Alternate Councilor.
In this Member Volunteer Spotlight, learn more how Jennifer became involved in volunteering as part of ACS and advice to others interested in volunteering.
I’ve served on the NESACS Public Relations Committee since 2011 working with my father, Dr. Jack Driscoll, NESACS Public Relations Committee Chair. Our favorite saying is “ Not only do we work together at our day job but we also volunteer together”. I have been a member of the Board of Publications since 2022 and was on the ACS Northeast Regional Meeting (NERM2023) Organizing Committee in a Public Relations/Social Media Management role.
In 2010 I attended the October meeting of NESACS specifically to ask the Chair for a mini-grant to hold a science cafe during the International Year of Chemistry (IYC2011) in 2011. I attended the ACS Fall meeting in August 2010 in Boston (that was the meeting where it rained constantly) to present social and digital media recommendations to the ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications (CPRC) as a Sustainability Engagement Event (SEE) Team Leader and Facilitator, a project developed by then ACS President, Dr. Joe Francisco. During that meeting I had the opportunity to attend my first ChemLuminary Awards ceremony and the International Year of Chemistry Workshop. I was overwhelmed, in a good way, by the range and amount of chemistry, science and STEM education and outreach that was orchestrated by ACS volunteers. The ChemLuminaries gave me the inspiration I needed to bring informal science education to Southeastern Massachusetts and more specifically, to the Cape and Islands. Attending the IYC2011 Workshop gave me the roadmap for how to fund, plan, organize, and execute an IYC2011 themed outreach activity. It started with getting connected to my Local Section, applying for seed money, seeking promotional assistance, and holding events that people want to attend.
Dr. Al Hazari was the guest lecturer that evening performing his “Show me the Chemistry”. The NESACS board approved my request to apply for one mini-grant for a science cafe on Cape Cod. Dr. Mort Hoffman challenged me to organize not just one science cafe, but four science cafes: One for each quarter of the International Year of Chemistry. I like an achievable challenge so I took him up on it. We chatted a bit before discovering that Mort was my father, Dr. Jack Driscoll’s thesis advisor at Boston University!
I met Mort’s challenge and haven’t ever stopped! I have been organizing multiple science cafes every year for the past twelve years. In fact, in August 2023 alone, I’ve planned two science cafes for adults on topics ranging from the chemistry of home distillation to What Lurks Beneath: The Science of Deep Ocean Exploration.
Ironically enough, one of the things I was seeking was promotional assistance for my quartet of science cafes. The Public Relations Committee was vacant and my father and I partnered up and moved in. I started a few social media channels (Facebook and Linked-In) and moved NESACS from the old “magnet-mail” server controlled by ACS national to Constant Contact.
By way of Mort’s challenge, my father and I found ourselves launched into the ‘science outreach for kids space’. I was inundated with Facebook friends asking when I could do a kids event. In the 4th quarter of IYC2011 we used the theme Health and created a “Healthy Kids” science cafe and hosted it at the Sandwich Public Library where we had 150 kids show up on a freezing December afternoon to do hands-on science. We garnered pre and post event local newspaper press from the Sandwich Enterprise and the Cape Cod Times and had attendees travel from Dennis to Plymouth to attend this event. This is no easy feat, denizens of Cape Cod typically don’t travel to different sections of the Cape for reasons other than grocery shopping, so this was huge. There were key attendees at this event: Teachers from the Plymouth Public School system, stakeholders from the Massachusetts Regional STEM Network as well as engaged kids and their parents. We gathered volunteers from NESACS, including our own current Chair, Dr. Sonja Strah-Pleynet as well as other ACS colleagues, family friends, and a cast of capable kiddos to pull off this event that ended with cake, you know, like all awesome events do.
This kids science cafe event led my father and I to numerous STEM public outreach opportunities as part of our newly assumed roles in 2011 on the NESACS Public Relations Committee. We assisted the Plymouth Public Schools to set up a science club, became involved initially with the Southeastern Massachusetts Regional STEM Network until Cape Cod got their own STEM network, multi-event involvement with the organization of workshops including a teacher workshop featuring Dr. Al Hazari (who from the moment I met him at NESACS, I caught his enthusiasm for delighting the public with STEM outreach) for the Cambridge Science Festival and annually organizing a NESACS outreach table at the Cambridge Science Festival, organizing tables at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Family Science Days in Boston (2013, 2017) which led to a 10 year and counting collaboration with the Cape & Islands Boy Scouts of America for the Wicked Cool Science Cafe at the Wicked Cool Autumn Welcome-How Cape Cod Celebrates National Chemistry Week since 2013, Cape Cod Science Cafe (numerous events per year or a variety of topics 2011-present), STEM Journey: A K-12 public outreach event organized in partnership with multiple STEM educator stakeholders, Science in Your SwimsuitTM
, STEM Journey Speaker Expansion Series (on-going since April 2023), and opened opportunities to serve on external boards such as the Sandwich STEM Academy Science Advisory Board and the Cape & Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America.My father and I also attended and volunteered at other NESACS Public Outreach events like the National Chemistry Week (NCW) and Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (CCEW) events where we became well acquainted with my ‘science outreach mentors’: the late Dr. Christine Jaworek-Lopes who taught me everything I needed to know about working full-time, being a mom and a runner and curating a large collection of science outreach materials and being able to host a chemistry outreach pop-up event at any moment in time and in the least expected places, like at Hanover Day.
And the ‘father of Science is Fun’, Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri. One of my happiest memories of being Chair of the ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications was getting to present Bassam with his Grady-Stack ACS National Award for Interpreting Chemistry to the Public and planning his special award celebration and surprise multimedia presentation where I’d collected photos and quotations from all the important people that inspired Bassam in his life and career. I am pictured below with Bassam and my father, both of whom have alot in common with respect to their love of chemistry, their devotion to their careers (when work feels like a beloved hobby), their ardor and advocacy for ALL education (but science preferred, of course) and the gift of having a desire to volunteer and give back to the profession. I have utmost admiration for them and have gained much insight and inspiration from them that shows up in all the informal science education events that I produce. I am truly blessed to have these incredible trailblazers as mentors.
The rewarding part of my volunteer service to NESACS is the immediate impact it has on the participants. Whether the programming is for families, students or adults, the resounding response is always one of gratitude. Thank you for bringing this amazing program, thank you for providing these incredible facilitators, thank you for sharing your scientific network connections with us. Every event (even the ones I don’t plan) and every connection that I make whether it’s in the scientific arena or my own community of Cape Cod spurs on ideas of how I can leverage these connections to plan an even more awesome STEM outreach event or better yet, a series of events, like Mort taught me. My NESACS area events have had the benefit of my MANY ACS connections who’ve flown or driven long distances to bring their expertise to my public outreach events. And to my dearest Chemistry Ambassador, the late George Ruger, who always supported my NESACS outreach efforts by enthusiastic participation. George was always someone who showed up for me.
My family, including my two daughters, have grown up and been along for the ride and have always worked alongside me at public outreach events since they were ages 4 and 6 and in recent years (now 16 and 18) run their own activities at the Cape Cod Science Cafe events which has given them early STEM teaching skills and general STEM knowledge, leadership skills, patience (public outreach is sometimes exhausting), entrepreneurship skills (choosing their own activities/purchasing/setting up and running these), and a passion for volunteer service. I am grateful to have had the chance to be the kind of parent and the kind of family that works together to produce these impactful outreach events for NESACS.
I’d encourage folks new to NESACS to attend meetings, make connections, and get involved in committees that deeply interest you and have synergy with your personality, skillset, and align with your current work or future goals. And once you’ve found your volunteer niche, in the immortal words of Phish: “The trick [is] to surrender to the flow”.