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ROBERT SIEGEL,host:

It doesn't dig underground and it's not above Cindy Crawford's lip, but this next story is about the mole, that is the fundamental unit in chemistry. It's being celebrated in schools across the country today and NPR's Melody Joy Kramer explains why.

MELODY JOY KRAMER: Today is National Mole Day and over 5,000 classrooms across the country are observing the holiday, including my old high school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Unidentified Woman: When in doubt, go to the mole, remember that?

KRAMER: A mole is a number, 6.02E23. That's 6.02 followed by 23 zeros. That's big, especially in chemistry, where most numbers are really small. The mole is used to convert those really small numbers into something chemists can work with.

Ms. NANCY HINRICHSEN (Chemistry Teacher): The atom is so so small you can't possibly measure one atom.

KRAMER: That's Nancy Hinrichsen who teaches chemistry at Cherry Hill East.

Ms. HINRICHSEN: However, if you had a huge number of them, then you could actually measure the mass of all the certain number of them. So the mole represents - if you were looking at the atomic mass of an element, that amount in grams is one mole.

KRAMER: Take carbon for instance. The atomic mass of carbon is 12. That means 12 grams of carbon equals one mole, but moles, says Hinrichsen, aren't limited to chemistry.

Ms. HINRICHSEN: You could have a mole of chocolate chips. You could have a mole of people. You could have a mole of donuts. You could have a mole of anything. It just makes particular sense in chemistry because the size of the atom is so small.

KRAMER: That's a hard concept to remember. That's why 15 years ago, a Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin, science teacher Maury Oehler got the idea to make a holiday for the mole.

Mr. MAURY OEHLER: In chemistry, the mole is probably now the most important concept.

KRAMER: And he picked October 23 because -

Mr. OEHLER: Ten to the 23 power, 10/23 is October 23 and we celebrate from 6:02 a.m. until 6:02 p.m.

KRAMER: The holiday now has a theme. This year it's Mole Madness, after the basketball tournament and mole-themed food, says retired chemistry teacher Tom Tweedle.

Mr. TOM TWEEDLE: Le-mole-ade, guaca-mole sauce with chips. Some pie a la mole, mole-caroni, and ani-mole crackers.

KRAMER: Tweedle runs the Mole Day Foundation. He lives in Millersport, Ohio near Columbus. From 6:02 this morning to 6:02 tonight, the town of Millersport, Ohio will be renamed Molersport. There's a Mole Day Pledge of Allegiance, which Tom recites.

Mr. TWEEDLE: I pledge allegiance to the mole and to the science from which it comes. One SI unit extremely divisible with micro-moles and milli-moles for all.

KRAMER: For those of you who haven't been in chemistry for awhile, a SI prefix is a unit conversion, 10 to the 23 is a sextillion times 10, and the Mole Day theme song, written by Mike Offit, a retired science teacher from Barrington, Illinois near Chicago.

Happy Mole Day! Melanie Joy Kramer, NPR News.

(Soundbite of Mole Day Theme Song)

Mr. MIKE OFFIT: I was eating cheese nachos at a movie last week when something strange came over me. But it wasn't in my stomach, no, it was in my brain. I started thinking about chemistry. My head filled up with images of molecules and atoms and when happens when they chemically combine. I could see them spinning round and round, colliding, rearranging. What was happening to my mind? Mole Madness. It's coming to your town. Mole Madness, going to track you down. Mole Madness will get into your soul. Mole Madness will make you love the mole. So I went to see my doctor and he said we're going to happen you but we have to check and see if you are stable. He hooked me to a big machine with lots of flashing lights.

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