Bassam Shakhashiri

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Bassam Z. Shakhashiri
Bassam Shakhashiri 2011.jpg
Shakhashiri presenting "Science is Fun" at the 2011 National Science Olympiad.
Alma mater
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri (born 1939, Lebanon) is a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is the holder of the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair. An active advocate for science education, he is the author of multiple books of chemical demonstrations. He was the 2012 president of the American Chemical Society and has received numerous awards and honors.


Shakhashiri was born in 1939 in Lebanon to Dr. Zekin A. Shakhashiri of the American University of Beirut and Adma N. Shakhashiri. The family moved to the United States in 1957. Shakhashiri attended Boston University, receiving his A.B. degree in 1960, and then earned an M.Sc. (1964) and Ph.D. (1968) in chemistry at the University of Maryland.[1][2] He accepted a postdoctoral position under Gilbert P. Haight, Jr., at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and taught there for two years as a junior faculty member. In 1970 Professor Shakhashiri joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he held the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair until his retirement in 2021.[3] He has been a member of the American Chemical Society since 1962.

Science education[edit]

External video
Bassam-Shakhashiri-CHF-2013-Heineman-Lecture 018 crop.jpg
video icon Bassam Shakhashiri: The Rewards and Responsibilities of Freedom, Chemical Heritage Foundation
video icon Spellbound Episode 3—A Yellow Sweater: Bassam Shakhashiri, Ph.D., ACSVideoTheater
video icon Once Upon a Christmas Cheery, WISLscifun

Dr. Shakhashiri has given more than 1400 invited lectures and presentations around the world.[4] Shakhashiri is a strong advocate for public education and programs that inform the public about scientific research, creating an "educated citizenry". He helped to found the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy.[5]

“Science literacy enlightens and enables people to make informed choices, to be skeptical and to reject shams, quackery, unproven conjecture and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned. Science literacy is for everyone – chemists, artists, humanists, all professionals, the general public, youth and adults alike.”

— Mission statement of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy[5]

Dr. Shakhashiri has spent much of his career celebrating the fun of science by giving public demonstrations at schools, fairs and on television. At UW-Madison, he directs the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL), a coalition of scientists and graduate students committed to innovating science education and engagement.[6] The Science Is Fun! presentations at community settings such as farmers' markets, shopping malls, schools, and colleges have reached tens of thousands of students, teachers, and parents throughout Wisconsin. His annual Christmas show, "Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri," inspired by lectures of 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, ran for 50 years, and has been viewed by as many as 1,400 people in one year.[7] The institute also sponsors a scholarship for graduate students in chemistry who include a chapter in their dissertation that describes their scholarly research for a general audience.[8]

Dr. Shakhashiri has published several books of chemistry demonstrations, including Manual for Laboratory Investigations in General Chemistry ; Workbook for General Chemistry; and Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. His books, television broadcasts, and website have provided the source material for presentations given by hundreds of teachers during National Chemistry Week, as well as regular demonstrations by many teachers throughout the year. Chemical Demonstrations has been applauded as "a series without peer", for its "wealth of detail", "copiously illustrated, meticulously documented, and well-planned."[9]

In 1996-97 Dr. Shakhashiri chaired two working groups which reviewed the Wisconsin Science and Math Standards.

National Science Foundation[edit]

Shakhashiri served as assistant director of the National Science Foundation for Science and Engineering Education from 1984 to 1990. In that position he obtained a four-fold budget increase for science education over a five-year period, and was credited widely with revitalizing science education programs at NSF. However, he was also anonymously criticized for having a "confrontational" style, overly personalizing policy campaigns, and introducing a political element into the grant award process. In 1990 NSF Director Erich Bloch removed Shakhashiri from his post, replacing him with Luther Williams, a move that was both applauded and protested.[10]

American Chemical Society President[edit]

He was elected President-Elect of the American Chemical Society in 2011[11] and became president in January 2012.[12] One of his initiatives while president was to create a year-long Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences, whose report, Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences, recommended better preparation of Ph.D. candidates for employment, teaching communication skills for engagement in a global workplace, and inclusion of women and students from underrepresented populations.[13][14]

Shakhashiri has also spoken about changes in scientific practice, in particular the ways in which boundaries between chemistry and biology are blurring as scientists learn more in those fields.[15] More recently, he has called for active scientific discourse on climate change and other significant societal issues.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

Shakhashiri has received a large number of awards and honors, including the following:[3]


  • "Science is Fun: Chem Time and Physics Fun" and "Science is Fun: Colored Flames and Glowing Liquids," Public Broadcasting System and Wisconsin Public Television (2000).
  • "Once Upon A Christmas Cheery In The Lab Of Shakhashiri," Public Broadcasting System and Wisconsin Public Television (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999).
  • "Science is Fun: Sound and Music" and "Science is Fun: Bubbles in the Kitchen," Public Broadcasting System and Wisconsin Public Television (1997).
  • "Science is Fun: Flashing Cash and Instant Ice Cream" and "Science is Fun: Silver Trees and Orange Tornados," Public Broadcasting System and Wisconsin Public Television (1995).
  • "Science is Fun: Flames, Fog and Fountains" and "Science is Fun: Collapsing Cans and Glowing Liquids," Public Broadcasting System and Wisconsin Public Television (1992).
  • "Exhortations for Enhancing the Quality of Science and Technology Education," Materials Research Society Bulletin, Page 7 (July 1992).
  • "Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry," Vol. 1 (1983); Vol. 2 (1985); Vol. 3 (1989); Vol. 4 (1992); Vol. 5 (2011), University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Shakhashiri, B.Z., Ucko, D.A. and Schreiner, R. "An Exhibition of Everyday Chemistry: Communicating Chemistry to the Public," J. Chem. Educ., 63, 1081 (1986).
  • "Exhortation for Good Teaching," J. Chem. Educ., 63, 777 (1986).


  1. ^ Osborne, Cayce (2008). "Male Call" (PDF). Brava Magazine (December): 84–85. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Bassam Z. Shakhashiri". University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Bassam Shakhashiri". Science is Fun. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b Neuman, Mike (August 11, 2014). "Call for Action on Climate Change by Renowned Chemistry Professors' Bell and Shakhashiri". All Things Environmental. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b Schneider, Pat (September 17, 2014). "Science to the people: UW-Madison's outreach efforts aim to reinforce the value of research". The Capital Times. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  6. ^ "Bassam's Call to Action". Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  7. ^ Ziff, Deborah (December 4, 2009). "40 years later, chemistry show is still a hit". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  8. ^ "WISL Award for Communicating Doctoral Research to the Public". Department of Chemistry. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  9. ^ Kauffman, George B. (8 November 2011). "Bassam Z. Shakhashiri: Chemical demonstrations: a handbook for teachers of chemistry, Volume 5" (PDF). Foundations of Chemistry. 15 (1): 119–120. doi:10.1007/s10698-011-9137-6. S2CID 91888382. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  10. ^ Mervis, Jeffrey (July 9, 1990). "Critics Open Fire On Shakhashiri As He Exits Education Post At NSF". The Scientist. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  11. ^ Shakhashiri, Bassam Z. (September 6, 2010). "For President-Elect: Bassam Z. Shakhashiri". Chemical & Engineering News. 88 (36): 77–78. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  12. ^ "Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D. 2011 ACS President-Elect - Younger Chemists Committee". 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  13. ^ "A new vision for educating tomorrow's scientists". April 9, 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  14. ^ "A new vision for educating tomorrow's scientists". Eureka. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  15. ^ Shakhashiri, Bassam Z. (October 10, 2012). "2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Did the 'Right' Science Get Its Due?". Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  16. ^ "Carl Sagan Award for Public Appreciation of Science". Council of Scientific Society Presidents. Archived from the original on 13 August 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  17. ^ "0 Emeritus Professor David Emerson Passes Away". UNLV. University of Nevada, Las Vegas. January 13, 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Chemist, Educator, Communicator Receives 2007 National Science Board Public Service Award". National Science Foundation. April 16, 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  20. ^ Reisert, Sarah (2015). "Public Understanding of Chemistry - A Look Inside the AIC Awards Program: The Gol Medal & Chemical Pioneer Awards". The Chemist. 88 (2). Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  21. ^ "2002 Award for Public Engagement with Science Recipient". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  22. ^ "George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  23. ^ "James Flack Norris Award Recipients". Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  24. ^ "Past Award Winners". wsst. Retrieved 2020-07-01.

External links[edit]