Contributed by Laura M. Reyes, Ph.D. student and Green Chemistry Initiative Co-chair, University of Toronto.
As chemistry students advance through their education, they train and specialize to become better scientists. For those who pursue graduate school, they become experts in their area of research, acquiring advanced technical and analytical skills. In addition to all this training, a few graduate students at the University of Toronto decided to start the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI) in order to teach ourselves about green chemistry and enhance our education.
The GCI was founded in 2012 by a group of a dozen members led by Laura Hoch and Melanie Mastronardi, who were curious about green chemistry but did not know how to apply the underlying concepts to their research projects. Since then, growing interest from the undergraduate and graduate community has increased the size of the group to 25-30 active members. Since the GCI is an entirely student-run organization, all of our events are organized with the educational needs of students as a priority. Our starting point is our own curiosity to know how others are succeeding in making chemistry more efficient, safe, and innovative. This approach seems to be working for the GCI, judging from participation in our events and the feedback we receive.
With an initial focus on showcasing how green chemistry can be applied to research, the GCI started a Green Chemistry Seminar Series. These seminars feature guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds, alternating between perspectives such as academic research, chemical industry, chemistry education, and governmental policy. Topics have ranged anywhere from catalytic reagents to the scaleup of green chemistry technologies and waste management considerations.
To further engage the student community in thinking about green chemistry, the GCI organizes an annual, conference-style event. The theme changes each year, directing the choice of speakers as well as the general structure of the event as either a workshop or a symposium. In addition to the scheduled talks, the annual event also includes a research poster session, networking opportunities with speakers, and a social night to allow for more casual interaction between participants.
In addition to the seminar series and annual workshop or symposium, the GCI organizes many other events and projects, enabled by a large group of members. These include green chemistry trivia and blog posts, a chemical waste awareness campaign, a fumehood energy reduction campaign, outreach demonstrations, a YouTube video series, undergraduate curriculum development, and the creation of green chemistry resources.
Though the GCI has been largely successful so far, there are still challenges to overcome in our goals towards green chemistry education. One of biggest challenges is the mentality that green chemistry is not relevant to certain areas of research. Hopefully this will continue to change, as we strive towards featuring a variety of speakers, encompassing all fields of research. As for the individual members of the GCI, getting involved has its own personal benefits. The experience gained from organizing events, securing funding, recruiting speakers, and setting up collaborations amounts to a valuable set of professional skills. This is all in addition to a widened network of contacts and, of course, the green chemistry knowledge itself.
The GCI started from a desire to learn about real applications of green chemistry in research. This continues today, with renewed enthusiasm to also promote green chemistry education at the undergraduate level by working with the chemistry faculty at UofT. The process of learning green chemistry by organizing our own events has been very rewarding, and an expanding global network of similar student groups shows the inclination that young scientists have towards education in green chemistry and sustainable science.
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