What Was ACS Doing at SXSW 2017?

Earlier this year, representatives of the American Chemical Society visited Austin, Texas, to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals. SXSW is synonymous with new ideas and important discussions, but chemistry isn’t typically part of the programming. Yet ACS was able to engage attendees in a variety of ways, including a series of short films about innovations in chemistry.

ACS Axial caught up with Amelia Grana to learn more about ACS’ presence at SXSW:

Why did ACS go to SXSW? What message were you trying send? 

Amelia Grana

The American Chemical Society is seeking to create and capture new value in new ways for ACS members and potential members.  SXSW is about bringing together global professionals at every level to participate, learn, and network; it is at this intersection where innovation occurs.

The SXSW conference prides itself for being the place where the most unexpected discoveries happen — where diverse topics and people come together to interact and exchange ideas.  Organizations go to SXSW to launch new products, or to engage with people in fun and unexpected ways; we did both. The theme of the ACS booth and presence was “Chemistry for Life: Chemistry for Innovation”.

We used the theme of “Chemistry for Innovation” to illustrate how chemistry is instrumental in the rapid pace of innovation and development we are experiencing today.  Equally important, put a face to the chemists that are driving the innovation at its earliest and most fundamental level.  We highlighted how ACS is at the forefront of the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of these efforts that are inherent in any scientific exploration today.

What are some of the ways ACS engaged SXSW attendees this year?

We produced four, short-form documentary-style films to illustrate the collaborative, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial and — most importantly — innovative aspects of chemistry and chemists. We premiered three of the four at SXSW and will show the fourth at the upcoming ACS National Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco. These stories were made to evoke a sense of “wow” to get people talking and excited about what chemists are doing and how they are doing it and to illustrate how fundamental chemists are to innovation.

We also produced a “What Element Are you” Quiz in the style of Buzz-Feed. This was a fun quiz that we had people take that generates one of 11 elements we pre-selected: Magnesium, Oxygen, Helium, Argon, Sodium, Titanium, Platinum, Neon, Einsteinium, Bromine, and Aluminum. We have fun descriptions and a cute graphic done to illustrate the results. At SXSW we gave people their corresponding T-shirt once they revealed their results! Since we have launched the quiz, we have had over 18,000 people take it. We immediately saw people walking around the expo hall wearing them. We will be doing the same activity at the upcoming ACS National Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco.

Lastly, we piloted a concept for a new community engagement platform for our members and for people to converse with chemists. On the ACS Xchange you can co-collaborate on content, write articles, share content, have discussions, hold live events and more. At SXSW we held live events for conference goers and Xchange members to chat in real time with chemists and ask questions about the videos, about the chemistry of beer and about the chemistry of wine. We also held a contest for people to share their stories with us about why science is so important to them and how it has affected their life.

What was the reaction to ACS’ presence at a non-technical show like SXSW? What kinds of conversations did you generate?

We had such a tremendous experience at SXSW. We encountered numerous members, former members and many who had spouses, husbands and friends that were chemists and ACS members. We had one member who stopped by to tell us: “I saw that you were going to be here this year, and I was wondering what you were going to do…. But I love that you are here, and I love that you brought it!”

We were able to educate throngs of people on who we were and what we did. Those were some of our best conversations. We also had quite a few conversations with people that had confused us with American Chemistry Council and what we did versus them. We had people that watched the videos and wanted to be put in touch with the chemists being featured, as it was relevant to their work. We had groups of Austin’s finest stop by to watch our video on shear thickening fluid and its applications to protect against stabbing and to enhance Kevlar. We also had a lot of students stop by who were studying chemistry and other sciences. One young woman was an undergraduate student and was currently studying biology and sat down to watch the films and in talking to her she said, “This is so interesting, I have been thinking about switching to chemistry.”

On more than one occasion we had people commenting that we were bad because we “worked with” or “promoted” chemicals, in which case we were able to use that opportunity to educate and inform.

How were the chemists featured in these videos chosen? What made their stories stand out?

We produced these videos in a very short period of time, so we were restricted by accessibility and timing, but the largest factor was that we wanted to illustrate innovative work that was being done by chemists to better the Earth, and human life.

How can ACS Axial readers watch these videos, learn more, and get involved?

Please sign up for the ACS Xchange, watch the videos, share with friends and join the conversation.

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.