Issue Date: July 17, 2006
Green Summer School
On New Year's Eve, Paul Anastas arrived at a soiree primarily attended by fashion designers. Each new person he met asked about his profession. When he mentioned "chemist," partygoers literally stepped away from him. But when he said "molecular designer," they were intrigued.
In his opening talk at the fourth annual Summer School on Green Chemistry in Washington, D.C., Anastas used that anecdote to illustrate why prioritizing design in chemistry is important. Anastas, who is the director of the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute (GCI), also emphasized that green chemistry is much more than just the statement of a noble goal.
He defines green chemistry as "the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances." Over the next four days, the 53 students participating in the school would learn that green chemistry involves more than just increasing the yield of an organic synthesis by 5%, for example.
The majority of the students came to learn about the possibilities of green chemistry and engineering. Such information rarely emanates from traditional undergraduate or graduate curricula. The students traveled to Washington from universities in five countries in the Americas; by birth, the students also represented nations in Europe and Asia. They eagerly learned about each other's cultures and work. They brainstormed and discussed potential collaborations during informal sessions. By the end, students who spoke with C&EN said they would highly recommend the experience to students at their home universities.
Organizers Mary Kirchhoff of ACS's Division of Education and Kathryn Parent of GCI welcomed the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows accepted to this summer school. A grant from the Johnson Family Foundation covered all transportation expenses and dormitory housing in Washington.
The first summer school was held in 2003 as a National Science Foundation and Department of Energy cosponsored Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute in Uruguay. Kirchhoff, then a staffer at GCI, developed the proposal to provide education in green chemistry and engineering to chemists and engineers, as well as an opportunity for these young scientists to build interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collaborations. Subsequent summer schools were held at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, and McGill University, in Montreal.
This year's school immediately preceded the 10th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, which was held one city block away during the last days of June. Many of the students attended the conference at reduced registration and housing rates.
During the first morning school session, students introduced themselves, described their current work, and told the group why they were attending the conference. Their research interests were as varied as their cultures and included green composites, photodegradable polymers, pesticides, sensors for lead and mercury in water, ionic liquids, hydrogen storage, organic synthesis, microwave-facilitated reactions, life-cycle assessment, and chemical education.
"I'm here to get remotivated," said Bevin Daglen, a fourth-year chemistry graduate student at the University of Oregon, when she introduced herself. She says that even though the university has a strong green chemistry program, not every lab has thrown out the "old" preparations and methods.
In the lectures, the students heard numerous real-life examples of how incorporating principles of green chemistry and green engineering translates into reduced waste or cost. They listened to lectures on science as well as business and government drivers for green chemistry and engineering. Each speaker, whether ACS staff or academic or government researcher, stressed thinking about environmental consequences in the early stages of a project.
In group discussions about the lectures, students related what they were learning to examples from their own research. The students also presented papers and posters.
On the last day of the summer school, many students, including Daglen, noted that green chemistry affects many more areas of science and engineering than they were originally aware of. And both chemists and engineers better appreciated the chance for cross-pollination among the fields.
Despite early-morning lectures and late-night sightseeing, the students say they came away invigorated. Research is frustrating and slow, and this summer school is a reminder that change is possible, said Kate Wilbanks, a second-year chemical engineering graduate student at the University of Notre Dame.
Shubha Basu, a fourth-year chemistry graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, told C&EN she would incorporate what she learned upon returning to her lab. Many other students expressed the same sentiment.
The summer students also were eager to teach what they learned. Yanina Minaberry, a fourth-year graduate student in chemical education at the University of Buenos Aires, in Argentina, wants to get green chemistry into high school teachers' lessons. She was happy to learn about "real" green chemistry, an area that she says is just starting to emerge in her country.
Visit the ACS Green Chemistry Institute website (chemistry.org/greenchemistry/summer.html) for updates on the 2007 Summer School on Green Chemistry, tentatively planned for Mexico City.
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