Faculty Feature

Professor Kim Hilton, a.k.a. Chemical Kim

How did your love of chemistry develop?

As a young child, I spent a lot of time taking things apart and exploring outside. I was an extremely curious kid and a bit of an inventor. I loved figuring out how things worked and how to reinvent electronic and mechanical things. I would take apart old radios in an attempt to have surround sound in my bedroom. I’d collect old bike parts and lawnmowers to make motorized bikes and go-carts. With all this exploring, my curiosity exploded. I always wanted to know why materials had such different behaviors. It wasn’t until I walked into my first chemistry class in high school that my curiosities started to get answers. My chemistry teacher performed a lot of demonstrations to explain how matter behaves. She would explain gas laws by collapsing soda cans, combustion reactions with burning alcohol, and atmospheric pressure with sucking an egg in a bottle. I entered college as a chemistry major, which put me into many years of rigorous science and math classes. I am thankful I never gave up pursuing chemistry because I now work in a career that I love.

Why is it important to you to share your knowledge of chemistry with others?

Although I knew from high school that I wanted to learn chemistry, many of my chemistry courses in college were very difficult and felt very much like a history class more than a science class. My professors mostly lectured with very few visual or real-life examples and my lab experiences made little connectivity to my own life experiences of exploration. I knew I wanted to change this experience for future scientists. I knew it would take dedication on my part to bring improvements to chemical education. Thus, I have made a big part of my life’s work to teaching science to everyone with the encouragement of curiosity and exploration. I am always encouraging my audiences to explore and question, use their unique backgrounds to finding solutions, and continue their education to build their knowledge and resources.

What is some other work you do both in chemistry/stem education and for the LGBTQ science community?

For over 20 years, I have brought science to the community, mostly through my own volunteer work and efforts. I developed a science television show on a community public access channel, and for over 10 years I’ve hosted a science segment on morning shows on ABC affiliate stations. I have brought many hands-on science programs to local schools, libraries, museums, Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, STEM camps, LGBTQ youth groups, and Children’s Hospitals. At the Helen DeVos Children’s hospital, I developed and taught a “Science Friday” class for kids to actively learn science at the hospital school. I’ve been a keynote speaker for both science and educational conferences and meetings, including Pfizer Pharmaceutical company. I’m actively involved in LGBTQ Pride as both a co-chair for community Pride events and as an invited guest speaker.

Want to see Chemical Kim in action? Check out the Frost Science Museum’s Virtual LIVE@Frost Science video Pride in STEM Day: Periodic Table, where professor Hilton demonstrates some of her favorite elements from the periodic table.