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stories - through Feb 2016

Chemistry Department Goes Green

When senior lab instructor Dr. Lindsay Sperling joined the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department a little over two years ago, it was in the midst of reorganizing the curriculum and updating lab experiments. Modernizing these labs opened the door for integrating sustainability more than before. Simultaneously, a growing enrollment in the introductory chemistry classes meant a lot more chemical use, and a lot more waste. It was clear that a top department priority would be introducing green chemistry practices and to raise an overall awareness amongst chemistry students. With inspiration from former teacher Jim Hutchinson and experiences of green chemistry practices at University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), Lindsay became the main advocate and lead for this change on campus.

Green chemistry was developed as a response to the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and has influenced the industry. Lindsay likes to think of green chemistry as “environmental science in a proactive way." A current lab in the Chemistry 11: General Chemistry course asks students to devise a method to measure the amount of CO2 an average human exhales in a year. This “green” lab uses no new chemicals and prompts students to design their own approach to experiments. The green chemistry labs, which also emphasize environmental chemistry, give students a chance for real-world applications and challenges them further than the usual standard verification experiments. Lindsay’s philosophy is that “lab is more putting chemicals to work and using the knowledge from the lecture portion applied to real world scenarios to explain phenomena.” A lab example that is currently in development is one where students will be required to synthesize biofuels and compare them to gasoline, testing toxicity and combustion levels (i.e. how much energy can be derived), and analyzing the sustainability of the fuel sources.

Furthermore, the labs will also embody "Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry” (from the EPA website) which will challenge students to be sustainable chemists by carefully considering the designs of chemical products or procedures so they can reduce or eradicate waste and hazardous substances to the natural environment. Adjustments to the student teaching assistant training program within the department also emphasizes the necessity of a sustainable mindset in chemistry.

Sustainability, to Lindsay, means to be inherently conscious in all aspects of interacting with the world. “For chemists, when it comes to sustainability, it refers to considering the effects of creating something, like where it will end up and if it can be designed to be compostable or degradable,” noted Lindsay. Her goal is to share green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, with as many students as possible since they are the next creators [of chemicals], and exposing them from the start will produce a mindset and culture of sustainability when entering the industry.

Contributed by Cara K. Uy, Sustainability Coordinator, and Kayla Wells ‘16, Sustainability Intern for Waste Diversion