A typical high school student’s schedule usually includes core courses in English, math, a foreign language, history, and science. Skills learned in math class often come in handy in science, while having a grasp on English makes learning another language easier. But what about a crossover between science, history, and English? The National Historic Chemical Landmarks (NHCL) program from the American Chemical Society (ACS) provides a way for this intersection to occur.

ACS grants Landmark status to chemists’ important achievements in the history of the chemical sciences, and provides a record of their contributions to chemistry and society in the U.S. Chemists and chemistry have transformed our lives in extraordinary ways, from advancing medicine and industry to creating new products.

Figure 1. A portion of the Landmarks timeline. The fully interactive timeline is available from the Landmarks website.

The Landmarks collection tells the stories of a variety of developments in chemistry. And over the years, ACS has developed lessons about these developments for teachers to bridge the gap between literacy, history, and real-life science. Now, the collection is available in the AACT Classroom Resource Library. While it currently contains 16 Landmark lesson plans, the collection will continue to grow.

Lesson Plans

These lessons are a great way to introduce a historical topic of scientific importance to students. They’re also easily used as substitute lesson plans when needed. Teachers will find that the lessons are composed of ready-made assignments for group projects, classwork, and/or homework. Each lesson includes a reading and additional activities to reinforce literacy skills, order events into historical context, and practice chemistry skills. The lessons include the following types of activities:

  • Anticipation Guide
    • These exercises are designed to help engage students by activating prior knowledge and stimulating student interest before reading. Teachers could discuss students’ responses to each statement before they read each article. While they read, students should look for evidence to support or refute their initial responses.
  • Timeline
    • Students are tasked with organizing events in chronological order while they read. Then they complete an activity to help them put the events into historical context.
  • Decision-Making Applications
    • Students are “put in the shoes” of someone responsible for the discovery, giving them the opportunity to think about the controversy — and the sense of accomplishment — the scientist experienced. This helps students realize that scientific breakthroughs aren’t always easy.
  • Engineering Process
    • While discoveries sometimes happen by accident, they’re more typically a result of looking for a solution to a different problem. The lessons include activities that help students retroactively analyze the scientist’s thought process to see how they used data and clues to arrive at a conclusion.
  • Further Exploration of a Topic
    • Many Landmarks address a particular field of science or chemistry topic. Several of the lessons include an activity that helps students investigate a particular scientific topic through the context of the Landmark. This is an opportunity to use real-life applications to apply seemingly abstract chemistry concepts.

Each Landmark lesson plan includes additional resource suggestions, offered by ACS or AACT, that relate to the topic. The list may include a video, simulation, ChemMatters article, or activity in the AACT Classroom Resource Library. Teachers can use these additional resource options to further teach about the particular topic.

Table 1 provides an overview of the 16 lessons currently available in this resource collection at the time of publishing, as well as the associated Chemical Landmarks. This collection will continue to grow over time as more Landmarks become available as subjects for lesson plans for teacher use. Links are provided for the Landmark page on acs.org, and for the related lesson plan in the Library. Note that some lesson plans have slightly modified titles in comparison to the original Landmark title. Additionally, the chemistry topics addressed in the readings and lessons have been identified for teacher reference. For a listing of all NHCLs, visit the ACS Landmarks Directory.

Table 1. Overview of Chemical Landmarks that are available as subjects of high school lesson plans in the AACT Classroom Resource Library.
ACS Landmark Chemistry Topic(s) Covered Lesson Plan

Discovery of Transuranium Elements at Berkeley Lab

Atomic Structure, Nuclear Chemistry, Periodic Table

The Periodic Table and Transuranium Elements

Discovery of Ivermectin

Organic Chemistry, Molecular Structure

Discovery of Ivermectin: Preventing Blindness and Heartworm

The Keeling Curve: Carbon Dioxide Measurements at Mauna Loa

Gases, Energy, Atomic Structure

Climate Change and the Keeling Curve

Development of Baking Powder

Molecules, Bonding, Molecular Structure, Organic Chemistry

The Development of Baking Powder

Chlorofluorocarbons and Ozone Depletion

Energy, Radiation, Chemical Reactions, Properties

Chlorofluorocarbons and Ozone Depletion

Norbert Rillieux and the Multiple Effect Evaporator

Thermodynamics, Energy, Phase Changes

Norbert Rillieux, Thermodynamics and Chemical Engineering

Willard Libby and Radiocarbon Dating

Nuclear Chemistry, Half-Lives, Isotopes

Radiocarbon Dating and Willard Libby

Steroid Medicines and Upjohn: A Profile of Chemical Innovation

Organic Chemistry, Molecular Structures, Bonding

Steroid Medicines: A Profile of Chemical Innovation

Infrared Spectrometer and the Exploration of Mars

Electromagnetic Spectrum, Spectroscopy, Molecular Structure

Mars Exploration with Infrared Spectrometers

Legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Solutions, Solubility, Concentration, Environmental Chemistry

Legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Joseph Priestley and the Discovery of Oxygen

Gases, Properties, Bonding, Naming Compounds

Joseph Priestley, Discoverer of Oxygen

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Measurements, SI Units, Properties

Setting the Standards of Excellence

Isolation of Phytochrome

Energy, Electromagnetic Spectrum

Isolation of Phytochrome

Leo Hendrick Baekeland and the Invention of Bakelite

Organic Chemistry, Polymers, Chemical Reactions

Synthetic Materials through History

Discovery of Fullerenes

Measurement, Metric System, Molecular Structure, Allotropes

The Discovery of Fullerenes

Scotch Transparent Tape

Intermolecular Forces, Polymers

Scotch Transparent Tape

Future Plans

ACS and AACT are always looking for new and better ways to support teachers. This collection of Landmark lesson plans will continue to grow over time through the collaborative work of ACS, AACT, and teachers. Please contact landmarks@acs.org if you would like to request that a lesson be developed for a particular Landmark, or if there’s a Landmark available in English that you’d like to see translated into Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic.

Photo credit:
(article cover) Bigsto
ckphoto.com/ING Studio 1985