Tag Archives: education

Teaching Green Chemistry and Toxicology.

Teaching Green

Original published in Chemical and Engineering News, October 1, 2012

The Green Chemistry Commitment’s learning objectives are designed to ensure that chemistry majors have proficiency in essential green chemistry competencies.

A group of educators in the U.S. has grown impatient with the slow headway in integrating the concepts of green chemistry and toxicology into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum. They are ready to ask academic institutions for pledges to accelerate that progress through an initiative called the Green Chemistry Commitment.

Colleges and universities that sign the commitment agree to develop goals for implementing a core set of learning objectives, says Amy S. Cannon, executive director of the nonprofit organization Beyond Benign, in Wilmington, Mass., which is leading the initiative. The objectives outline the basics of green chemistry and toxicology that students should take with them to the workplace after they graduate, Cannon says.

At the top of the list of objectives is that students should have a working knowledge of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry. These principles, developed 15 years ago, serve as a conceptual framework to guide the design, manufacture, use, and recycling or disposal of chemical products in an economically, environmentally, and socially responsible way. Additional learning objectives include having an understanding of the molecular mechanisms of how chemicals affect human health and the environment and being prepared to communicate the benefits of green chemistry to society.

“The principles of green chemistry direct chemists toward safer, less toxic, and renewable chemistry and materials,” Cannon says. “But to advance green chemistry, a significant change must occur in how we are training the current and next generation of scientists. The Green Chemistry Commitment is an effort to unite the chemistry education community around common learning objectives that have traditionally been absent from our training as chemists.”

Many institutions have already committed significant time and financial resources to introduce green chemistry concepts into lecture courses, substitute green chemistry laboratory exercises in place of traditional labs, and use green chemistry as a research framework, Cannon says. However, a widespread, systematic approach to green chemistry education doesn’t yet exist, she notes.

For example, the American Chemical Society’s guidelines for bachelor’s degree programs provide broadly defined requirements for approved departments and graduates receiving certified degrees (C&EN, Sept. 24, page 39). Green chemistry is currently listed as a potential cross-disciplinary track that could be taught as part of the overall requirements.

Green chemistry advocates argue that green chemistry should be integrated into the foundation course work on analytical, biological, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, Cannon says. However, the ACS guidelines are not designed to specify the content of these courses. “Rather than waiting for a mandate to teach green chemistry principles and toxicology concepts, which might be a long time in coming, we thought we should create a mechanism for the chemistry community to commit to changing the curriculum now,” she says.

The Green Chemistry Commitment is designed to be flexible so that each institution can adopt the objectives according to its resources and capabilities, Cannon explains. For example, some departments might focus on integrating green chemistry into core lecture and lab courses, whereas others might develop separate green chemistry or toxicology courses.

Each institution’s progress in meeting the objectives will be charted in an annual report that provides an opportunity to update goals to help drive continual improvement. The reports will be evaluated by the initiative’s advisory board made up of established members of the green chemistry community, and the results will be shared with other institutions.

One university that hopes to sign on to the commitment is the University of California, Berkeley. The university is a relative newcomer to green chemistry, notes John Arnold, director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and an adviser to the Green Chemistry Commitment. UC Berkeley made its first foray into green chemistry four years ago when graduate students asked for permission to start a green chemistry and sustainable design seminar, Arnold says. The university has been rapidly expanding its efforts from there.

UC Berkeley’s green chemistry program has two focal points, he explains. At the graduate level, the department offers the seminar course and a lecture course in green chemistry. Arnold says the goal is to help the next generation of leaders in chemistry begin their careers able to include green chemistry in the courses they teach and in their research.

“At the undergraduate level, we want to weave green chemistry into the fabric of what we teach, so that undergraduate students can take these concepts with them as they go into the world as doctors, lawyers, engineers, politicians, and businesspeople,” Arnold says. To help meet that goal, UC Berkeley developed new lab experiments for its general chemistry course for nonchemistry majors, which is taken by more than 2,000 students per year—about half of all freshmen.

The Green Chemistry Commitment:

◾ Theory: Have a working knowledge of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry.

◾ Toxicology: Have an understanding of the principles of toxicology, the molecular mechanisms of how chemicals affect human health and the environment, and how to access the resources to identify and assess molecular hazards.

◾ Laboratory skills: Possess the ability to recognize, assess, and design greener alternative chemical products and processes.

◾ Application: Be prepared to serve society in their professional capacities as scientists through the articulation, evaluation, and employment of methods and chemicals that are benign for human health and the environment.

Read the remainder of the original article HERE.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

 

McGill workshop

Building Links Between Green Chemists and Business in Education.

On September 7 and 8, 2012, McGill University (Montréal, Canada) hosted a unique workshop designed to foster green innovation in the next generation. Ten MBA students from the Desautels Faculty of Management and ten PhD candidates from the departments of chemistry and civil engineering were gathered to reflect on this concept. Two guests speakers gave lectures putting green chemistry in the context of industry.

The first one, by Phil Dell’Orco, head of sustainability at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), addressed the question of fostering and coordinating green chemistry in a large pharmaceutical company. Lynn Leger from Green Center Canada presented how her organization is constantly touring universities (in Canada and outside)

 

PHOTO: Phil Dell’Oroco, Process Engineering at GlaxoSmithKline. By Owen Egan for the McGill Reporter

to find scientific innovations and bring them to the market. She elaborated on  some of the challenges associated with the transition from research to the market. We also had a few smaller classes to introduce the concepts of green chemistry, such as the green principles and metrics, and what it takes to be successful in innovation, as well as green drivers of innovation.

Students were then divided into mixed groups (composed of both business and chemistry and engineering students) and had to work together on building a case study. They were given an innovation, coming straight from Green Centre Canada – an antibacterial compound mimicking garlic active ingredient. Students had to find a market, build a financial case and work some of the chemistry associated.

They came out of it with amazing presentations on their ideas and demonstrated outstanding ability to interact with people from a different  discipline. They all pointed out how much they appreciated being exposed to a difference academic culture and recognized the importance of building bonds across disciplines to bridge the gap towards greener innovations.

This workshop was made possible through funding from the CREATE program of  NSERC, a Canadian federal funding agency, and the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management. Steve Maguire (from the School of Management) and I created an organized the whole two-day event. And we’re very excited about it. We’ll definitely do it again next year.

Read about the workshop in the McGill Reporter.

By Audrey Moores, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry
McGill University

Etzkorn solo photo

Green Chemistry at Virginia Tech Part III

For my third and final interview in the Virginia Tech series, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Felicia Etzkorn (pictured left), pioneer of the green chemistry course at Virginia Tech. The green chemistry course was her idea back in 2003. She and her colleague, Dr. Tim Long, decided to team-teach it just for fun. A couple of years later Dr. Etzkorn decided she was going to approach it more seriously. As a result, she had to write a course proposal for Virginia Tech’s course catalogue. The course was approved by three different curriculum committee levels. Afterwards, she developed course material and lectures, and taught the class for three years, from 2007 – 2009. She is excited to be teaching it again this Spring 2012.

 

Dr. Etzkorn also applies her passion for green chemistry to the local Blacksburg community. She designed a green science experiment for middle school students. Under the program, she brings the students into one of the labs at Virginia Tech to let them make their own polymer of lactic acid. The procedure allows them to make polylactic acid derived from soybeans, similar to a process used for biodegradable plastic containers for salads.

 

 

The students got a chance to come to Tech and get to do the experiment using solvent free polymerization and a non-toxic catalyst. First they had to stir and heat the mixture to get the polymer following lab procedures. Then the students made small toys by pouring polymer into clay molds they made in art class (pictured right – the brown items: shells, lips et.c are the PLA polymer, the grey figures are clay molds.). Since it does biodegrade the students were even encouraged to compost it. They were really enthusiastic about green chemistry.

 

 

Dr. Etzkorn also studies neural tube defects in mice with Dr. Hrubec, her collaborator. In the experiments, the control mice start getting neural tube disorder at a shocking rate of 20%, leading to many control experiments to see what was causing it. One suspect turned out to be from our every day tap water: epilepsy and bipolar disorder medication Cardamazepine. Dr. Etzkorn explains: “We cannot get any water that doesn’t have it to some extent and the mice are very sensitive to these agents.” The second suspect is a quaternary ammonium compound used to sanitize the lab. More experiments have yet to be conducted to determine the culprit.

 

AGC congratulates the diverse work that Dr. Etzkorn does with green chemistry and environmental health sciences and wishes her success in the future.

 

turner

Green Chemistry at Virginia Tech Part II

For my second interview in the Virginia Tech series, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Richard Turner. Like Dr. Long, he worked in the chemical industry and saw that most of the companies that practice green chemistry do so for regulatory and financial reasons. While working in the private sector Dr. Turner worked on plastics made without solvents – in ‘melt phase reactions.’ Melt phase processes eliminate energy consuming steps or the need to add something else to the waste stream.  They are inherently more environmentally friendly. They work by placing solids (which don’t react very fast) into solution so that the molecules can have the mobility to find each other and react.

In his own labs on campus, Dr. Turner has a few projects in melt phase rather than in solution as described above. His lab is also trying to make polymers that capture carbon dioxide. He describes:

“Carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere is going to be an increasingly large issue – we have to invest in the research now to learn how to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide. Polymer particles have huge surface areas, with ligands that can capture CO2. The sorbent (“a material used to absorb liquids or gases,” according to Wikipedia; yes, I had to look it up) and ligands capture CO2 and then moves it to reactor where it releases it, concentrating the CO2.”

Dr. Turner is also on the science advisory board of the company, Novomer, which was featured in a previous article on converting oranges to plastic. He works on biodegradability and reducing the overall energy footprint. “We have to make sure we do really tough and detailed analysis of our choices.”

In the classroom, Dr. Turner teaches a course called: “Future Industrial Professionals in Science and Engineering”. The course caters to scientists and engineers who want to go into industry. He divides the class into groups who run individual projects; this year all the projects were sustainability driven. There were three projects in total: the first worked to extend the shelf life of food; the second worked to improve battery life; the third worked to make a better membrane for reverse osmosis.

Outside of his own class, Dr. Turner was impressed with Tech’s sustainability. He discussed the accomplishments of the College of Natural Resources and the Environment, while also noting the strong Renewable Resources Group.

AGC applauds Dr. Turner’s hard work with sustainable chemistry, and hopes it serves as inspiration to other chemists.

 

3838_web

Green Chemistry at Virginia Tech Part I

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

chemistry classroom

AGC Goes to School

 

Advancing Green Chemistry has recently been invited to speak at several universities in the Charlottesville area. Most recently, AGC staff member, Mana Sassanpour, gave a presentation on the 12 principles of green chemistry to undergraduates at the University of Virginia.  In the presentation she showed examples that the students are familiar with from their own classes and lives.

For example, principle number 5: ‘Using safer solvents and reaction conditions’. UVA undergrads use DMSO and ether as solvents in many organic chemistry labs – often without ever knowing how harmful and toxic these substances are. By showing them that pharmaceuticals that used to use similar solvents are now using water as a replacement, Mana showed how to positively alter reaction conditions. In addition, her presentation opened students to an emerging field of chemistry: mechanochemistry. Mechanochemistry does not use solvents at all, but rather relies on a grinding mechanism to start and push a reaction. This field of chemistry has been applied to the production of pepto-bismol, a compound that everyone is familiar with, making the synthesis solvent-less. The students’ favorite part was the picture of the pepto-bismol ice-cream. Yumm.

Mana’s second lecture at UVA was directed towards the Chemistry Department. This lecture was followed up with a great question and answer session, really engaging the whole audience. For the most part, each participant asked a question, creating a really involved dialogue.

Up next, Mana hopes to lecture at Eastern Mennonite University!

 

Student Power: How University of California Berkeley students brought Green Chemistry to their department.

Living on Earth:  New Era, New Curriculum

GELLERMAN: For more than 60 years the chemical company DuPont promised, “Better things for better living through chemistry”. Well, these days the slogan might say: “better chemistry for better living.”

In laboratories across the country chemists are trying to come up with new formulas to make safer products. And students at many universities are learning how to do it. It’s called green chemistry. Living On Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports on the changes at one of the nation’s most influential chemistry departments: the University of California, Berkeley.

Environmental Health Researcher Dr. Michael Wilson (UC Berkeley)

[SOUNDS OF AN AUTO REPAIR SHOP, TORQUE WRENCH]

LOBET: Two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, Michael Wilson stands outside a garage.

WILSON: So, we’re at a very typical automotive repair shop. We have about six or eight mechanics working here with vehicles on hydraulic jacks and as you can see this is a fairly solvent-intensive process.

LOBET: Wilson is a professor of public health now, but eight years ago he was a fire fighter-paramedic, studying for his PhD here in environmental health, when he heard about the case of an injured worker.

WILSON: A young man, a 24-year old automotive mechanic, with really advanced symptoms of neurological disease. He had lost his sensory and motor function in his limbs. He had at lost his grip strength; he was in a wheelchair.

LOBET: The state health department had a hunch about what was happening to this young man.

WILSON: He was going through about eight to ten cans a days of a commercially available, break-cleaning solvent product that was formulated with hexane and acetone. And that formulation causes nerve damage.

LOBET: Wilson wondered whether this was an isolated case, so he started visiting other auto repair shops. He found 14 more mechanics with similar neurological damage just in the Bay Area. They would spray the cleaning solvent on cars, then work while the vapor evaporated, as Wilson put it, in their breathing zone.

[SOUNDS OF TOOLS DROPPING]

LOBET: This toxic brake cleaner wasn’t something that had been around for years and somehow escaped the attention of California regulators. It was a new product. California officials had asked manufacturers to remove some of the hexane from their cleaner because it can turn into ozone, which burns people’s lungs and aggravates asthma. They did. And replaced it with acetone.

WILSON: Why is it that a known neurotoxic solvent was used under completely uncontrolled conditions by workers across the state of California?


A typical fume hood. Some departments are remodeling their labs with fewer of these hoods. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

[SOUND OF THE BERKLEY BELL TOWER]

LOBET: On campus, Mike Wilson says, he found himself in the precarious position of wanting to change a profession he was just entering.

WILSON: Our field has typically been about measuring the extent of the damage, and I became interested in the next level of question which was: Why are we creating these occupational and environmental health hazards in the first place? Don’t we have the have the talent and the resources to create safer chemicals and safer products from the beginning?

LOBET: These questions led Wilson to the field of green chemistry. Established by Paul Anastas and John Warner in the 1990s, it’s the emerging field that looks at where chemicals end up in people and the environment, and advocates safer substances. Next, Wilson began talking with the university chemistry department.

WILSON: What we found here at the Berkeley campus was that chemistry education hadn’t really changed much in the last 30-40 years.

LOBET: Not too long after, Wilson met a new chemistry grad student who’d arrived at the university. Marty Mulvihill and Mike Wilson had something in common—call it a public interest approach.

MULVIHILL: While I was here, it was really important to me not only that I do research, but that I reach out to my community and think about the ways that chemists specifically could influence society. Like, we use a lot of resources from society—chemistry is a very resource intensive thing—like, how do we give back?

LOBET: With this kind of community orientation it was natural that the first thing Mulvihill did when he got to Berkeley was start organizing other chemistry grad students.

MULVIHILL: The name of that group was actually Chemists for Peace, which turned out to be far too controversial for a place like Berkeley. I mean, there’s like that perception that Berkeley is an activist-oriented thing, but when you look at chemistry, anything that even appears political is not widely accepted.

So, we produced a lot of coffee mugs, people generally liked that we were around, but it never really took hold.


Dr. Marty Mulvihill stands at a traditional hood. Some school are trying to reduce the need for vapor hoods by using more benign substances. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

LOBET: It dawned on Mulvihill that he needed to be speaking science to scientists. So he and a core of other grad students organized their own seminar series.

They got a grant from the Dow chemical company, and brought in top thinkers in green chemistry: John Warner, Paul Anastas, Terry Collins. At first Mulvihill says, the Chemistry department wouldn’t even give them a room to meet in, but gradually the students prevailed.

MULVIHILL: I can remember the evening it happened. The dean had just come in. I think it was his first, maybe his second year. The graduate seminar was going on and John Warner, one of the fathers, one of the guys who wrote the original book on green chemistry, had agreed to come to campus and give a talk. And the Dean actually showed up to that talk. Not only show up for the talk, but he came out to dinner afterwards, and it was so fun to watch as the Dean and John Warner, so it’s Dean Rich Mathies and John Warner interacted and all of a sudden I realized, now it is bigger than me.

LOBET: To really appreciate the significance of what’s happening at Berkeley and other campuses around the country, you have to understand just how remote health concerns have been for most chemists. This area of science is toxicology: the study of the adverse affects of chemical, and also physical and biological agents on living things.

MULVIHILL: A traditional chemistry training doesn’t teach you a lot about the fate of things. You learn a lot about how to make it, and how to make it cheaply and efficiently- that’s all part of the traditional science training. Where they end up, what their possible effects are on human health and the environment, that just traditionally hasn’t been part of a chemistry education.


Alison Narayan is a fifth year organic chemist and organizer of the student-led green chemistry seminar at Berkeley (Photo: UC Berkeley)

NARAYAN: We’re working with these chemicals all the time but we don’t necessarily know how toxic they are. Or if they are toxic, like what their mode of action is, or why they are harmful to you.

LOBET: That’s Alison Narayan, another organizer of the student-run seminar series. Narayan is a fifth year organic chemist, making entirely new compounds.

NARAYAN: Really how we are trained is to focus on the reactivity of the chemicals and developing new reactions and new ways to build things, not necessarily even evaluating the performance of those materials or the toxicity of those materials.

LOBET: Narayan says she’s been surprised by the lack of toxicology training in her chemistry education. And environmental health scientist Michael Wilson says it seemed strange to him too.

WILSON: The fact is that in the United States you can earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and a PhD in chemistry at the universities and colleges across the United States and never demonstrate a basic understanding of how chemicals affect human health or the environment. And, so, are we surprised than toxic materials are finding their way into consumer products that are widely available on the market? We probably shouldn’t be.

LOBET: And Wilson says chemists aren’t the only scientists who have not paid much attention to toxicology. Amazingly, even public health experts often aren’t trained in it.

WILSON: So we are seeing a transformation in the school of public health embracing this idea of green chemistry, where, up to now, our job has really been about identifying, measuring characterizing the extent of the problem. It’s simply no longer possible for us in public and environmental health to clean the mess up at the end of the pipe. We have to design chemicals, we have to design products in ways they don’t show up in human blood, and in breast milk, and in hazardous waste sites, and in groundwater.

LOBET: The first big signs of changes taking place at Berkeley, besides the student-organized seminar, happened last summer. For the first time, the university offered its entry-level chemistry course with the option of a single lab section that was green.

[SOUND OF STUDENTS WORKING ON LAB BENCH]

LOBET: On this day, second-year students Swetha Akella and Michael Poon are doing a practice run through one of the new labs.

Second year students Michael Poon, Max Babicz and Swetha Akella help refine one of the new green lab experiments. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

POON: What she’s actually trying to do find the concentration of the dyes in the drinks to see how much we are consuming. Red 40 is very common in a lot of consumables. Because the amount of dye is very small, to get a measurable amount you have to boil off the water, and that increases the percentage of dyes in the sample. This is Sunkist and Hawaiian Punch.

AKELLA: I think the thing that really appeals to me is the practicality, because a lot of times you do a lab where you find, like, a concentration and you just like, forget about it afterwards. But when you do like, the sunscreen lab, or this lab, you really think about it the next time you put on sunscreen or the next time you decide to drink a soda.

LOBET: Poon points out, it’s not just a question of lab subject matter.

POON: I think it is a really important to think about where your actions are leading. If you pour something down a drain, where does it go? Think about that, and what needs to be done to process that to clean it up, to make it so that that water is usable again.

LOBET: A review of class evaluations from students who took that first green chemistry lab in the summer shows a lot of enthusiasm. Chantelle Khambholja was won of those freshmen.

KHAMBHOLJA: Well, our first lab section was on biofuels. And, in the first lab we went through and looked at the effects of biofuel on germination of seeds to measure ecotoxicity. In the second lab, we actually synthesized our own biodiesel, which was awesome, and in the third lab, we measured the amount of energy produced when it was burned.

LOBET: This fall term, the Berkeley Chemistry department converted all of the introductory lab sections into green chemistry labs. Berkeley chemistry lecturer Michelle Douskey oversees teaching assistants for the introductory classes. She says traditional chemistry curricula have been too focused on memorization. She’s trying to change that. The overlay of green chemistry, she says, will make content even more relevant for students who are already asking these questions.

DOUSKEY: The students are really curious about personal care products. What is in their water bottle? Is there lead in the paint in my really old apartment? And, all of these are chemistry problems.

Dr. Michelle Douskey lectures in chemistry at Berkeley. (Photo: Scott Olson)

LOBET: A typical curriculum or text, Douskey says, might devote one problem to someone concerned about lead in drinking water, then move on to the next problem.

DOUSKEY: Maybe if we look at lead in paint, we might look at it from many different angles. We might revisit it throughout the semester. Is it going to stay in the paint or not? If it get’s in the dust then where does it go? Then there’s all of that chemistry stuff like how do I even detect for lead in paint? So that’s how we wrap in things like, well, light interacts with matter and we have certain instruments that help us to put some numbers on these things. So, I kind of feel like the green chemistry perspective is going to allow us to tell a more complete story. It was like we were telling part of a story before, you know, ‘oh well, you don’t need to know where this came from.’

LOBET: That idea, of teaching the whole story, has been central at the University of Oregon for more than a decade. As a leader in green chemistry, it’s taught two hundred chemistry faculty from around the country in annual week-long workshops. That gives U of O assistant department head Julie Haack a clear view of the changes at Berkeley.

HAACK: I think the changes that are happening at Berkeley are an incredible validation of this approach.

LOBET: A validation because of Berkeley’s heft and reach. Each year, 24 hundred incoming students will be learning their most basic chemistry principles …green.

HAACK: I think the impact is huge. These are the future decision makers in our society and what we’ve seen, once the students are armed with the tools of green chemistry, they really become empowered to participate in the solutions of finding more sustainable products and processes.

LOBET: If chemist Alison Narayan is any indication, the changes will be broad, from the mundane to the profound.

NARAYAN: So it does make me think about the way I do chemistry, for example reducing the amount of waste you have. We actually had a discussion last night in our research group meeting about reusing test tubes. So, we use lots of test tubes and then usually when we’re done with these, we just throw them away. So in my spare time when I am in my hood working up reactions, or on the bus on my way to lab, I find myself thinking about what else could you make that from? Instead of using this commodity chemical from petroleum, what else could you make that from? So it does, it does color the way I think about things and the type of daydreaming that I do.

LOBET: Berkeley has now opened a center for green chemistry. It’s planning a new graduate course in the spring. And it will be offer a new green chemistry emphasis that students may choose and that shows up like a minor on their transcripts. All these changes have not escaped the notice of the chemical industry, says Mike Wilson.

WILSON: These are discussions that strike at the very heart of the chemical enterprise, the things that we are writing about and the things that we are teaching have enormous influence for some of the largest industry groups and the largest companies in the world. And they certainly have an interest in influencing what we do here, and so we have had to be very careful, because we certainly want these companies to embrace the idea of green chemistry, not as a green wash, as a fundamental element of their corporate mission. But we also have to be independent in the way that we conduct our work, so there is an inherent tension there that we work with almost every day.

LOBET: That tension may be stronger at Berkeley, where the changes in chemistry teaching have implications for chemical policy across California. But the shift to green chemistry at universities around the country seems clear. Again, Julie Haack of the University of Oregon.

HAACK: Our goal is that green chemistry will just become the way chemistry is taught. And, pretty soon green chemistry will disappear and it will just become the way chemistry is done.

LOBET: At Berkeley professors say the goal is to turn out the next generation of not just chemists, but writers, politicians, and attorneys who can understand the consequences of the way things are made. For Living On Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet.

Related links:
- Green Chemistry Education Network at U of O
- Database of curriculum material for educators GEMS — Greener Education Materials
- Green Chemistry Community
- Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry
- U Mass Center for Green Chemistry
- Yale Center for Green Chemistry
- Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry
- American Chemical Society Green Chemistry
- EPA Green Chemistry Education Site