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Visitor StudiesFront-End Studies

This front-end study was prepared for an October 1997 workshop held at the ASTC annual conference in St. Louis, Chemistry Exhibits That Work: What Visitors Know

Chemistry and the Periodic Table: Front-End Study for Chemistry Lab
Contributed by Becky Wynne, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

The purpose of this study was to gather information about the public's interest in chemistry and their knowledge of the Periodic Table.

The data was collected between December 18 and 22, 1991, from OMSI's general visitor audience. The visitor's knowledge of the Periodic Table was specially highlighted and they were asked to determine which 20 of the 71 chemical products listed they were most interested in. Paula Baer was the project evaluator, and Amy Shreve assisted with data collection.

One hundred OMSI visitors were randomly approached and asked to complete questions while a staff person waited nearby.


  • Our sample was predominantly (71%) from the Portland, Oreg. metropolitan area. Representation from other areas in Oregon was 153% and 11% from other states.
  • The 71 products were ranked, showing which were most popular to the visitors. This will be useful in determining which products are selected for the exhibit.
  • The survey showed that two-thirds of the respondents were interested in the historical background of the chemical products.
  • Most (71%) said that chemistry is very important to life, but 69% responded that they only occasionally came into contact with chemicals. This misconception would be addressed in the exhibit.
  • Most people correctly identified the Periodic Table and knew what the letters/symbols stood for, but more than half did not know why it is organized the way it is.

    20 products visitors are most interested in (and number of visitor responses):
    (Selected from list of 72 products)

    • Teflon (19)
    • Fiberglass (20)
    • Nitroglycerin (20)
    • Transistors (20)
    • Penicillin (21)
    • Aspirin (22)
    • Soap (22)
    • Chewing gum (24)
    • Gunpowder (26)
    • Photographs (26)
    • Superconductors (26)
    • Synthetic diamonds (29)
    • Alcohol (30)
    • Laughing Gas (31)
    • Film (33)
    • Neon Lights (36)
    • Lasers (38)
    • Batteries (39)
    • Computer chips (40)
    • Atomic bomb (47)

    How interested are you in the historical background of these products?
    Very interested
    Not interested

    How often are you in contact with chemicals?
    All the time
    Most of the time

    How important is chemistry to life?
    Very important
    Not important

    What does the picture above show?
    (Showed visitor a picture of untitled Periodic Table)
    18% Don't know
    48% Periodic Table of elements
    11% Chemical table/chart
    8% Table of elements
    10% Elements/atoms
    5% Visitor associates with chemistry

    What do the letters/symbols stand for?
    22% Don't know
    50% Chemical elements
    6% Atoms
    21% Different chemicals
    2% Properties of elements
    (Note: Some people listed more than one answer)

    Why are the boxes arranged in rows and columns?
    55% Don't know 14% According to nucleus size/atomic weight
    7% According to no. of protons/neutrons
    10% According to no. electrons
    19% Grouped by similar properties
    6% According to their valence states
    2% To show how they bond
    (Note: Some people listed more than one answer)

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