Ron Perkins, 2012 Outstanding Service to the Division Award

Ron joined the Division of Chemical Education in 1982 when Ethel Shultz requested that everyone bring a blank check to an afternoon session of the Dryfus/Woodrow Wilson workshop. Speaking to a group of 50 teachers, Ethel presented a strong case for Division membership, collected applications, and mailed the checks. Twelve years later, Ron Perkins was elected Chair of the Division.

In addition to the 1995 Chair, Ron has served as Member at Large, on the Examination Committee and on the Board of Publications. In the spring 1986 he began sounding the alarm concerning chemical demonstration safety. With the reactivation of pre-college teacher workshops in the mid-1980s, inexperienced teachers were being empowered and encouraged to present chemical demonstrations to rather large groups of people. Ron personally observed:  chunks of dry ice being placed in a beaker of water and then passed to the audience to taste; nails flying from a burst plastic bottle when, on a whim, hydrogen gas was substituted for methanol vapor; hands and arms being placed into liquid nitrogen and quickly redrawn. . . Realizing that a major catastrophe was about to happen, Ron voiced his concern at a DivChed Executive Board meeting.  Instantly, he was appointed Chair of a Chemical Demonstration Safety Committee. Ron wrote the Demonstration Safety Guidelines, which were adopted by the Executive Board in 1988 and revised in 1995. These guidelines included that the demonstrator should: NOT encourage the audience to taste anything from a common container; NOT place any body part into liquid nitrogen; NOT demonstrate something that has not been previously tried; …Over the years, the DivChed Demonstration Safety Guidelines have been copied, published and revised. In 1996 they served as the basis for the NSTA Demonstration Safety Guidelines.

Starting in sixth grade with three chemistry sets, his precollege years were spent, filling balloons with hydrogen using household chemicals; silvering mirrors; exploding gun-powder, and igniting rocket fuel. In 1996, Ron became the first precollege Plenary Speaker at  a BCCE (14th Clemson University).  At the speaker’s dinner, he sat with Nobel Prize Winner, Kerry Mullis and they immediately bonded, both in their childhood had made rocket fuel with potassium nitrate and sugar. 

Receiving both Bachelors and Master degrees in chemistry at the University of New Hampshire, Ron decided to teach for two years and then obtain a “real” job. He counts as one of the top ten days of his life as the day he received the keys to the high school chemical storage closet.   Over the years, Ron has done almost all of Alyea’s Tested Demonstrations; and well over half of the experiments in Theo Gray’s Mad Science – Experiments You Can Do at Home  -- But Probably Shouldn’t.

Ron taught chemistry for 33 years; presented over 800 chemical demonstration sessions in the USA, Canada, Ireland, England, and Norway; and is an author of Bassam Shakhashiri’s Chemical Demonstration Volumes II, III, and IV. Recently, Bassam dedicated Volume V to Ron Perkins and Oliver Sacks. Ron has served as Chair of the Western Connecticut Section of the ACS and has received numerous awards:  Presidential, Conant, Catalyst…  He founded and was CEO of Educational Innovations, Inc.

As the Assistant Director of the Institute for Chemical Education (ICE), he traveled summers among the various sites:  Madison, Greeley, Berkeley, Tucson, and Maryland. At his presentations, remembering the gift that Ethel Shultz had given him, he too passed out and collected DivChed Applications. Ron treasures his interactions with his DivChed colleagues who have always treated “just a high school teacher” with respect.

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