Being a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, it is a little hard for me to write this article on all the innovation and leadership that is happening at Virginia Tech in the field of Green Chemistry (note: the two schools are notorious rivals). However, this is one topic on which I must concede: Tech just does it better.
To begin my series of Green Chemistry interviews with faculty and staff at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (also known as Virginia Tech, VTech, and Tech), I interviewed Dr. Timothy Long. Dr. Long’s dedication to greener chemistry can be seen in both his teaching and in his research. I had the privileged opportunity to discuss his background, career at Tech, and plans for the future.
After receiving his PhD in chemistry, Dr. Long spent nine years in the chemical industry, where his passion for greener processes developed. He described: “they (industry) were very aware of green chemistry, motivated by economics and affordability.” Once exposed to this mentality, Dr. Long got passionate and wanted to see how to apply this mentality to his research and teaching. When he came to VTech twelve years ago he wanted a more sustainable way of doing things. He described: “I want to weave the principles of green chemistry into my teachings and research.”
A major contribution from Dr. Long’s lab is the more sustainable production of PSA (pressure sensitive adhesive used in many forms of tape and sticky notes). Previously, these compounds used petroleum-derived precursors that had terminal ester bonds. Dr. Long’s polyesters have that same ester bond but in the middle of the polymer. This structural change allows the compound to be made without solvent, while also allowing biodegradability. Killing two green chemistry birds with one stone.
Virginia Tech offers a course in green chemistry taught alternatively by Dr. Long and Dr. Etzkorn. It is a 4000 level class for undergraduates which caters to mainly to chemistry, biology, and business majors. Each semester the course has 45 students. The course takes an interdisciplinary approach to green chemistry as it integrates the science and concepts with society. It seeks to understand how chemistry is perceived in the wider community. While there is no green chemistry minor at Tech, the engineering school has a green engineering minor. Dr. Long also wants to make the green chemistry course mandatory for chemistry graduates. Currently he is submitting a proposal for a nanoscience degree at the University that would incorporate fundamentals of toxicology, essential for our upcoming chemists.
Dr. Long described the passion of Tech’s students to be more sustainable, commenting on their successful Earth Week each year and the increasing amounts of activity on campus. Tech is also hosting the World Polymer Conference next year – which is geared to making a more sustainable, healthy, and safer world.
AGC wishes Dr. Long success in all these ventures and applauds his success thus far.
Interview by: Mana Sassanpour, AGC