As molecular designers, chemists require knowledge about how chemical structures and properties impact toxicity and environmental impact. Despite the wide adoption of green chemistry in higher education, the knowledge of toxicology principles is absent from the training of a chemist. By giving students a deeper understanding of chemistry through toxicology, students can be better equipped to design greener, safer chemical products and processes in both academic research and industry.
As part of the Green Chemistry Student Learning Objectives within the Green Chemistry Commitment, we believe that a chemistry student should have proficiency in understanding how molecular mechanisms affect human health and the environment upon graduation.
Models for Implementing Toxicology
Within higher education, four types of toxicology education models have been identified through the Green Chemistry Commitment signers. These examples highlight the many paths towards educating students on toxicology concepts.
Student Led Courses: Student-led courses are good approaches for faculty who are learning toxicology along-side their students. By creating a special topics course on toxicology, or a student-research course where students research topics and generate reports, faculty can gain expertise as they are learning the subject with their students.
Stand-alone Courses: Independent toxicology courses are often opportunities for co-teaching across departments, therefore helping to bridge expertise gaps (i.e., chemistry faculty teaming up with biochemistry or toxicology faculty). These stand-alone courses also allow for ample time in teaching students principles of toxicology, molecular mechanisms of harm, and the tools for predicting toxicological endpoints.
Seminar Series: By inviting outside speakers in to discuss toxicology topics within existing seminar series programs, students can begin to learn about toxicology and related subjects, while also helping faculty to see the relevance to their own courses.
Invite a local industry expert who can help to make the case for student learning of toxicology concepts.
Integration into Chemistry Courses: Many colleges and universities are not able to implement separate stand-alone courses on toxicology. Faculty can use toxicology concepts to reinforce chemistry concepts within existing courses, providing students with a deeper understanding of the chemistry concept.
Access Toxicology for Chemists resources that align chemistry concepts with toxicology concepts for use within chemistry courses.
Additional Toxicology Resources
MoDRN (Molecular Research Design Network): MoDRN (Molecular Design Research Network) is a Green Chemistry and Green Engineering initiative, which focuses on the rational design of chemicals and materials to reduce toxicity. This multidisciplinary effort is led by four universities: Yale University, Baylor University, George Washington University and the University of Washington. They have developed open-access toxicology modules and have green chemistry videos available. http://modrn.yale.edu/undergraduate-curriculum
ToxTutor, U.S. National Library of Medicine, NIH: ToxTutor is an open-access tutorial covering key principles of toxicology. Students can learn toxicology principles at their own pace and receive a certificate of completion of the tutorial. https://toxtutor.nlm.nih.gov/
The Science of Chemical Safety Essential Toxicology, IUPAC: A resource for teaching and learning the fundamentals of toxicology. http://old.iupac.org/publications/cd/essential_toxicology/
Environmental, Health and Safety Data Resources, Toxics Use Reduction Institute: A guide for accessing credible environmental, health, and safety data on chemicals. https://guides.turi.org/beyond_sds
frequently asked questions
As molecular designers, chemists have the ability to prevent hazards from the very beginning design stage of a chemical product or process. By understanding more about the toxicity related to the chemicals that are used and designed, chemists can design molecules that have reduced human and environmental hazards. Toxicology is a key piece to understanding how chemists can reduce hazards of chemical products and processes.
How can I teach an unfamiliar subject?
This is a common challenge for chemistry faculty. We have found that faculty begin to familiarize their students in the concepts of toxicology through a number of different pathways – either by inviting in experts that can speak on a related topic, or by running student-led courses where faculty can learn alongside students. Chemistry faculty also find that this challenge presents an opportunity to reach out to colleagues in biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, and toxicology departments.
I’m interested. Where should I start?
Consider joining our Toxicology Working Group. It’s a great place to understand how others are beginning to teach toxicology, share resources, and to learn about the resources being developed to bridge this gap. You don’t need to have any previous experience with toxicology, just be willing to listen, learn and jump in if you want to contribute.