By Laura Hoch and Melanie Mastronardi, PhD Students at the University of Toronto
In the fall of 2012, we founded the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), a student group dedicated to raising awareness about green chemistry, in order to promote sustainable practices within the chemistry community at the University of Toronto. Through seminars, workshops and networking, the GCI strives to educate scientists and engineers about important green chemistry concepts that are relevant to chemical research and the community at large. To give you some insight into our motivation and how our organization works, we thought we’d share the following dialogue:
Laura: This all began because I wanted to learn more about how I could apply green chemistry to my research, but I didn’t know where to start. I scoured online resources, but having never received any formal training about green chemistry and without any face-to-face support, it seemed really daunting. After talking with you, Mel, and some of our colleagues, I realized that our best bet would be to come together to pool our resources and teach each other. What was your motivation to start the GCI?
Melanie: I had never really heard about green chemistry until you started talking about it, and I realized that I probably wasn’t the only grad student who had little or no prior knowledge about it. By starting a student group, we could make sure all the students in our community had an opportunity to learn about green chemistry. Since founding the GCI, we have initiated several projects to engage our peers about green chemistry. What do you think has had the biggest impact?
Laura: Inviting expert speakers from academia, industry and government to present in our Green Chemistry Seminar Series has definitely helped people see the impact of green chemistry and the many ways it can be applied, but I think we influence the most people with our weekly trivia events. By asking thought-provoking questions in an informal setting, we’ve managed to start some interesting discussions, which is a great way to really get people thinking. Despite our best efforts, there has been some resistance though. What would you say are our biggest challenges?
Melanie: One is overcoming the misconceptions about “green chemistry.” People who don’t really know what green chemistry is about often think it’s not relevant to their work, when really it’s relevant to all chemistry. I’ve also found that while it’s quite easy to get people to attend a lecture about green chemistry, getting them to actually go into the lab and incorporate the concepts into their research is much more challenging. If our peers were to take one concept into the lab, what do you think would be most valuable?
Laura: The more I learn about green chemistry, the more I realize that in its essence it’s really simple: before you start, think about what you want to do and then try to figure out the best way to achieve the desired goal for yourself, but also for your co-workers, your communities, and the environment. Green chemistry is definitely the way of future, and if we can convince our peers to think about science in this way, I think it will be a huge benefit to them in their professional lives, even if they don’t know it yet. What advice would you give to other students thinking about starting up a green chemistry group?
Melanie: Think about what you would like to do, and then decide what tools and support you’ll need to accomplish it. You would be surprised by how many people are willing to help you if you just ask. I continue to be amazed at the support we have received from our university, department, other student organizations and the many green chemistry experts we have had the pleasure of working with so far!
If you are interested in learning more about our group, please visit our website at: http://www.chem.utoronto.ca/green/
We would love to hear about other green chemistry student organizations that are out there, so please share your stories in the comments sections below! Or if you are interested in starting something similar, let us know and we'd be happy to help in any way we can!
Students participating in the first annual Green Chemistry Workshop at the University of Toronto
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