By Nimrat Obhi, Jonathon Moir, Amy Cannon & Natalie J. O’Neil
Upon returning from our first in-person conference since 2019, we were (understandably) exhausted. It was so exciting and energizing to see colleagues and friends whom we had either never met, or hadn’t had a chance to see in-person in a very long time. In fact, even our U.S. and Canadian Beyond Benign team members met for the first time in-person! We were all thrilled to be in the same place, at the same time – a rare opportunity to connect around a topic that we all hold dear to our hearts, green chemistry.
We have been going to the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference for years (Amy in particular). It seemed to be different this time around. Perhaps it was the distance between our last in-person conference – or, perhaps it was the youthful, invigorating energy from the numerous students and post-docs that we met. But, it did seem different. The open discussions of using green chemistry to address diversity, equity and inclusion, along with the themes of systems thinking and solving sustainability challenges through green chemistry resonated deeply with us, and with many of the attendees.
It was exciting to see new, emerging leaders in the green chemistry community. To kick off the conference, Dr. Adelina Voutchkova was welcomed as the new of Director of Sustainable Development and the Green Chemistry Institute at the ACS. As a longtime member of the green chemistry education community, we are excited to see her take on this leadership role. During her presentation, Adelina gave some important remarks about the influence of her very first GC&E conference in 2005 on her career. She reached out specifically to the students and next generation of scientists, educators and researchers in the room to encourage them to continue participating in the conference and to take advantage of the many benefits it can offer.
It was encouraging to see so many energetic, talented students who are embarking on their careers participating in the conference, such as Bria Garcia, a graduate student at the University of Delaware, who was participating for the first time as a graduate student. Listening to Anthony Rodriguez (recent graduate, Seton Hall University) present on his undergraduate research and hear him say “green chemistry has caused me to think about my actions in and outside of the lab” left us with so much hope for the future. He will be starting graduate school in the fall and we have full confidence that we will be hearing about his numerous contributions in green chemistry in the coming years. Tony Jin, Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Audrey Moores’ group at McGill University, was recognized for his innovative research through a poster award on his work on chitosan nanocrystals – a new type of nanomaterial derived from shell waste. These emerging researchers and leaders will pave the way for chemists to solve global challenges – and, they are so very needed in this community.
Diversity, equity and inclusion was another theme that resonated throughout the conference . It was really exciting to hear these topics discussed openly and hear how green chemistry can be used as a tool to address these challenges and inequities. The role of women in green chemistry and sustainability was particularly interesting to hear – Dr. Juliana Vidal (Beyond Benign post-graduate liaison) shared how women are agents of change in a recent editorial from a number of leading green chemistry researchers. Mary Kate Lane (Yale University) presented a subject that is often taboo within chemistry research – being pregnant in the lab. Her review titled “What to Expect When Expecting in the Lab” was really exciting to hear – as pregnant women (and their unborn children) face unique risks in the lab and as a result, pregnant women have historically had to make choices that impact their careers. Equitably providing resources for women to remain in chemistry research and take part in the green chemistry movement is essential in the field to ensure a diversity of perspectives and leaders take part in creating solutions. Dr. David Laviska (Seton Hall University) also provided some great insight on making the STEM fields more inclusive by providing good student support mechanisms. And, GCLTC Leadership Committee Member Andrea Ashley-Oyewole (Prairie View A&M University, GCC Signer) shared the work from the GCTLC Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Respect Subcommittee and how they aim to interweave equitable and inclusive practices throughout the online platform. The open discussions around how to actively include diverse students and perspectives was refreshing to hear and we are hopeful for the direction that this will bring us within the community.
Finally, we were so proud to participate in, and listen to, numerous fantastic symposia and presentations from the green chemistry education community. Including:
- Ken Hoffman (Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, GCTLC Leadership Committee member, Beyond Benign Lead Teacher), who summarized a systems thinking approach to teaching high school chemistry through green chemistry principles.
- Elizabeth Day (University of Texas El Paso) and Alexey Leontyev (North Dakota State University, GCTLC Leadership Committee member) organized a session on Assessment of Student Knowledge and Skills in Green Chemistry, Sustainability, and Systems Thinking – more evidence to build the case for green chemistry education is so important.
- Glenn Hurst (York University, GCTLC Leadership Committee member) presented on assessment of systems thinking in green chemistry in higher education via the design of a first-generation biorefinery.
- Sonya Doucette (Bellevue College) and Marta Guron (University of Pennsylvania) gave insights into teaching undergraduate general chemistry through an environmental justice lens and assessing green chemistry in an introductory chemistry module using systems thinking concepts
- GCC Advisory Board member Ed Brush (Bridgewater State University, GCC Signer) and Beyond Benign collaborators Jane Wissinger (University of Minnesota, GCC Signer) and Grace Lasker (UW Bothell) organized a Systems Thinking and UN SDG-themed session on Monday afternoon
- A fantastic session on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect (DEIR) in Chemistry and Engineering was organized by GCTLC Leadership Committee Members David Laviska and Glenn Hurst, with Michael Wentzel (Augsburg University). The session talks focused on the importance of equitable and universal access to green chemistry resources, and creating and providing resources that reflect the diversity of a global population, including the previously mentioned talks, and a talk by Cynthia Woodbridge (Georgia Gwinnett College) on her efforts towards “ungrading”: assessing students using nontraditional and inclusive methods to promote and enhance their learning.
- Beyond Benign’s Director of Higher Education Natalie O’Neil co-organized a session with Samy Ponnusamy (MilliporeSigma, GCC Advisory Board member) and Dean Campbell (Bradley University, Beyond Benign Greener Chemistry Laboratory Faculty Fellow) on “Integrating Sustainable Practices into Teaching and Research laboratories through Systems Thinking”. During the symposium, presentations from Namrata Jain (My Green Lab), Glenn Hurst, and Barb Morra highlighted some of the phenomenal efforts being made in introducing sustainability into undergraduate laboratories, including through student-centered research projects. Particularly inspiring was the collaborative work between John De Backere (University of Toronto, GCC Signer, Beyond Benign Greener Chemistry Laboratory Faculty Fellow), Matt Cranswick (Colorado State University – Pueblo), and Edward Zovinka (Saint Francis University) on bringing green chemistry and greener experiments into undergraduate inorganic chemistry labs (stay tuned for the release of the new resource guide in August!).
- A toxicology session organized by Teresa McGrath (Healthy Building Network) and Lauren Heine (ChemFORWARD) wrapped up the last day of the conference. The session was aimed at increasing education on hazards assessment, smarter molecular design, and greener product development in chemistry and engineering programs. Higher Education Program Manager Nimrat Obhi presented on Beyond Benign’s upcoming Toxicology for Chemists curriculum: a fully open-access curriculum that teaches introductory chemistry students the basic principles of toxicology to allow them to design safer molecules! (The curriculum will be launched online on August 1, 2022 – sign up here to stay tuned for details!). In addition, talks were presented by Rena Miu (Healthy Building Network), Chris Bartlett (ChemFORWARD), Shegufa Shetranjiwalla (Memorial University, Beyond Benign community member), and Elliot Rossomme (Messiah College) and Amanda Guan (UC Berkeley, GCC Signer) on hazards assessment tools and educational strategies all geared toward minimizing hazard and risk when designing chemical products.
And, finally, our very own Jon Moir (Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCLTC) Program Manager) presented a great overview of the GCTLC program, focusing on its development and progress, and emphasizing how this new online platform will serve and support a diverse green chemistry community. It is through this platform that we are hopeful to continue the conversations that we start at these in-person conferences. The tool can be a place for following-up with colleagues, sharing that paper from that talk that you heard, and collaborating with new (and old!) colleagues to amplify our collective impacts and accelerate the adoption of green chemistry in our educational systems. It won’t replace the energy from in-person experiences, but we hope it will sustain it until next time… so, until next time, we look forward to “seeing” you (and your cat!) on Zoom!