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Due to COVID-19, the Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (CCEW) campaign has gone fully digital with instructions for organizing virtual events and an updated suite of educational resources.



Find a Virtual CCEW Event to participate or learn how to plan your own Virtual Demo Event and Digital Illustrated Poem Contest for K-12 audiences, and Virtual Teach-In for higher education and adult audiences. Amplify the campaign on social media using the hashtags #CCEW, #EarthDay2020, and #chemistry. Help show collective action by adding your virtual events to Facebook and submitting your photos, videos, and screenshots to the CCEW 2020 Photo Album.






If you don’t have time to plan events, you can still utilize and share digital educational resources with teachers in need! Check out the:

Celebrating Chemistry Coloring Book (grades K-2)

Endangered Elements Color by Numbers (PDF) (grades 3-6)

ChemCatcher (PDF) (grades 9-12, undergraduate)

Earth Day 50th Anniversary Timeline (PDF) (grades 9-12, undergraduate)

and more educational resources organized by age group.








Contact your local CCEW Coordinator to see what opportunities exist in your area. Visit the CCEW website at or contact for more information.

 By David Constable Science Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute


Over the past few months we’ve highlighted the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), showing just a few of the many ways in which chemistry plays an enormous part in achieving the goal.  This month we turn our attention to SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being. The table below contains three targets under this goal that perhaps have the most obvious connections to chemistry and its allied professions.  


3.3  By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.

3.9  By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.

3.B  Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and noncommunicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines….


With the advent of COVID-19, it’s hard to imagine anyone who would not see the relevance and singular importance of this particular SDG.  Disease, of one kind or another, is an unavoidable part of every living organism’s existence and has clearly exacted a heavy toll on human society throughout our comparatively brief history.   We don’t need a pandemic to remind us of this fact, although many in the developed world are largely shielded from most of the diseases that impact billions in other parts of the world.


The easiest target for the green and sustainable chemistry community to bridge to is, of course, 3.9.  Arguably this target has been the major focus of much of green chemistry over the past 25 years or so and while there has been significant progress towards this goal, the world has a long way to go to achieve this target.  I have often made the point that the bulk of the chemistry enterprise continues to rely on highly reactive and hazardous chemicals as chemical building blocks, almost all of which is unsustainably sourced.  An additional impact comes from its extensive use of energy, the overwhelming majority of which comes from fossil carbon.   Each of these, in their own way, contribute to the production of hazardous chemicals and pollution.


The discovery and development of novel medicines and therapies is the focus of many people’s attention and considerable amounts of research dollars are spent each year in the public and private sector to develop novel medicines and therapies to treat a vast array of communicable and non-communicable diseases.  While the bulk of research goes towards diseases of the developed world, there are a few diseases afflicting the developing world that significant effort has been made to eradicate. Two past examples that come readily to mind are Merck’s efforts to eradicate river blindness, and GSK’s efforts to eradicate elephantiasis filariasis, diseases that affect billions in equatorial regions of the world, both of which exact a heavy price on those regions and their economies. Two diseases that continue to afflict the developing world, diarrhea and malaria, affect millions and are especially cruel, with diarrhea being the cause of several million infant deaths each year.  Vaccines play an incredibly important role also, with many diseases like polio, hepatitis A and B, and small pox, now largely preventable.


Preventing many diseases is directly dependent upon achieving progress in the other SDGs like clean water, good nutrition, and clean air. The bottom line is that these goals are not achievable in the absence of progress under several different goals, and progress will be enabled through chemistry and its allied professions. ;


Thankfully, the Pharmaceutical industry is a strong believer in, and supporter of, the advancement of green and sustainable chemistry. This is an important point that clearly demonstrates that the means to an end; i.e., the manufacture, distribution and sale of pharmaceuticals, is seen as being an important part of what it means to be a sustainable company. As the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable (PRT) has demonstrated over the past 15 years, the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry makes medicines should be accomplished in a manner that is green and sustainable. The PRT has invested over $2M in targeted research grants to investigate the grand challenges of green and sustainable chemistry in the Pharmaceutical industry, has developed tools to help scientists and engineers make better decisions about the solvents they use, the synthetic routes they develop, and the processes they optimize. As the industry has moved towards a greater number of larger molecules (biopharmaceuticals like monoclonal antibodies and other engineered proteins, oligonucleotides and polypeptides), the PRT has continued to investigate ways to make their processes greener and more sustainable


There is no doubt that good health and well-being is a goal worth striving for, and thankfully, it is a goal against which it is possible to see good progress being made over time.  We should, therefore, have reasonable hope of continued progress.  However, we should also be under no illusions; it is a goal which remains largely unattainable for large segments of the world’s population.  There is no lack of work to do, let’s just work to make good health and well-being as green and sustainable as possible!

By Ian Mallov, Research Chemist, Inkbox Ink


Ding, Y.; Harvey, D.; Wang, N.-W. L. Green Chem., 2020, Advance Article. DOI: Reproduction by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Mountain Pass is a tiny, unincorporated scatter of flat-roofed buildings at the eastern edge of San Bernardino County, California – the largest county by area in the United States. The sole reason for any habitation in this desolate, dun-coloured outpost just shy of the Nevada border was the Mountain Pass Mine, the only rare earth metal mine in America.


Here, from the 1950’s to the 2000’s, ores of the mineral family bastnäsite were extracted from a 1.4 billion-year-old Precambrian deposit. The ores – primarily bastnäsite, hydroxyl bastnäsite-(Ce) and hydroxylbastnäsite-(Nd) – underwent comminution, or crushing to a small particle size, then separation by flotation from other accompanying minerals. Hydrochloric acid leaching, and a process of sequential precipitations, separated cerium, europium, gadolinium, samarium, lanthanum, praseodymium, and neodymium, pure or as oxides.


With the rapid expansion of the periodic table over the last 150 years, scientists widened the buffet of elements from which technology may choose. Rare earth elements (REE), defined as the lanthanide series plus yttrium and scandium, augment the workhorse elements of the Industrial Revolution, copper, zinc and lead.


In the late 1990s, the Mountain Pass Mine, once the world’s top producer, struggled to remain a viable mine and was over taken by China as the world’s top producer of rare earth elements. By 2002, it ceased production. Attempts to revive it have lead to changes in ownership, a bankruptcy filing by then-owner Molycorp in 2014, and another closure in 2015. Reopened in 2018, the Mountain Pass Mine was renamed MP Materials. The joint venture between US and Chinese investors is focused on revitalizing the U.S. rare earth elements industry. While the US mine competes with China, which controls 80% of global suppliesof REE, refining of those metalscontinues to be done in China.


But prospecting for precious metals remains part of the romance of the old west. The famous gold rushes of 1848-55 in California, and the late 1890’s in the Canadian Klondike, the writing of Jack London and Robert Service, and the hardy, tough, risk-taking men and women of the frontier lend themselves to an old and incomplete North American narrative – glossing over, of course, the destruction of habitat and the indigenous populations on whom the influx of white prospectors often took a terrible toll.

The human and environmental costs of mining remain, and environmental stewardship depends on the policies of the countries where mines are located. Mining displaces plants and topsoil and often risks contaminating groundwater; tailings ponds left behind must be remediated. The refinement process of the ores generates large amounts of strong acid and organic solvent wastes, some of which is also radioactive. Considering treatment, production of one ton of rare earth oxides generates an average of 30 tons of wastewater released into the environment.


Might we envision recycling metals from end-of-life human-made materials as a more sustainable, alternative “mining” for the Anthropocene?


If we can, researchers such as Professor Nien-Hwa Linda Wang of Purdue University might represent the new frontier’s men and women.  In March, Professor Wang, along with her graduate students Yi Ding and David Harvey, reported a significant advance in REE recovery. In the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal Green Chemistry, they detail an improved, scalable, commercially viable method for recovering high-purity REE’s from magnets.


How much might be recovered from magnets, you ask? Actually, a huge amount. Neodymium magnets, made of a neodymium-iron-boron alloy which forms a Nd2Fe14B crystalline repeating unit, are the most widely used type of rare earth magnet. They account for an astonishing 30% by mass of REE use – the single largest application.


First reported in simultaneous papers by Sumitomo Special Metals and General Motors in the Journal of Applied Physics in 1984, NdFeB magnets represented a significant step forward from the samarium-based magnets then widely in use. A generation of rapid technological progress, particularly in information systems and energy storage, has for now entrenched dependence on them. They remain the strongest type of commercially-available permanent magnet, effecting the requisite magnetic force for applications in hard drives, electric motors, and wind turbine generators.


More esoterically, at the border where neuroprosthetics melds with science fiction, the idea of a “magnetic 6th sense” is occasionally resurrectedthrough the idea of fingertip implants of powerful magnets. We may yet see NdFeB magnet-equipped cyborgs.


But recent trade instability with China, and the dim prospects of the Mountain Pass Mine bode poorly for price and supply-chain stability for manufacturers of wind turbines or cyborgs.


And recovering REE’s is not easy. Typical methods for recovery from end-of-life magnets or other industrial junk are often similar to those used for extraction from ore. The challenge is, of course, in the separation, first of the REE’s from bulk materials, and second, of REE’s with often similar chemical properties from each other. Comminution, oxidation to the metal oxides, dissolution in strong acids, and solvent extraction are involved. Professor Wang highlights other methods reported in the research literature, including conversion of REEs to soluble chlorides via roasting with ammonium chloride under inert atmospheres, chlorination with chlorine gas, or chlorination with the molten salts of other metal chlorides. As one can imagine, these have their own safety, waste and energy drawbacks.


Wang’s group took a different tack. Ligand-assisted displacement (LAD) chromatography incorporates chelating ligands in the mobile phase (in this case the classic EDTA) to enhance separation of metals. This is an idea dating to the 1950’s, but it hasn’t gained traction industrially – partly, as the researchers note, because there was “no general theory for predicting the formation of a constant pattern in LAD until 2018.” That year, they reported a method for predicting the conditions under which so-called “displacement trains” – the areas of pure substance which traverse the displacement chromatographic column and ultimately elute – can be predicted. Building on this achievement, they have now shown on a mixture of Nd, Pr, and Dy how two-zone LAD chromatography radically improves the productivity of neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium recycling at high purities. By isolating the metals at 99% purity from the first zone, then loading less pure bands onto a second zone for further separation, they recover 99% of the metals at 99% purity. Chelants such as EDTA and Cu2+ salts are used, and 95% of these can be recovered. Although a full life cycle assessment is not presented, the authors’ thorough economic models demonstrate the potential for this method to be profitable, and scalable.


Prospecting for rare earth metals today may not have the allure of a 19th century gold rush, but instead – to recycle a figure of speech – the new frontiers are electronic waste facilities and laboratories such as Professor Wang’s.

By Carl Maxwell, Manager, Government Affairs, Office of External Affairs and Communication


Following on the heels of last year’s House Science Committee hearing on sustainable chemistry, the ACS Office of External Affairs worked closely with Congressional champions to pass broad sustainable chemistry legislation. The bill also ensured green chemistry was incorporated into energy research and emissions reduction legislation.  


On October 17, the House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee passed H.R. 2051, the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act. This legislation, drafted at the behest of the American Chemical Society, would create an interagency task force to coordinate green and sustainable chemistry research across the federal enterprise, as well as authorize research programs and public-private partnerships.  Congressional champions such as Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) worked directly with ACS staff to include a provision on improving STEM education, identifying roadblocks to improving the sustainability of the chemistry enterprise, and strengthening provisions on federal research.  The legislation subsequently passed the House of Representatives in December of 2019. Companion legislation, S.999, passed the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also in December, after ACS worked directly with the staff to modify and eliminate problematic provisions limiting the scope of the bill.


Additionally, ACS worked with Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT), and the House SST Committee to modify H.R. 3597, the Solar Energy Research and Development Act, to include sustainable chemistry as a research focus for future solar energy investigation.   The ACS sponsored language was added by amendment by Rep. Lipinski during mark up.  Companion legislation introduced by Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) also included the language in the original text. 


Finally, as a party of broad industrial emissions reduction legislation, S. 2300, the Clean Industrial Technology Act, ACS and the American Chemistry Council worked together to ensure the legislation would incorporate green chemistry techniques, practices, and methodologies.  Language was added at the behest of Senate Chemistry Caucus leader Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and included in similar House- passed legislation.  It was subsequently included at ACS’ request as part of the American Energy Innovation Act, a major energy authorization bill currently under negotiations.

By Jenny MacKellar, Program Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute ®


In the last couple of Nexus newsletters, we have shared information about ACS GCI’s efforts to draw connections between Systems Thinking and Chemistry Education, as well as our efforts to develop resources for chemistry educators to help integrate these concepts into the classroom. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has slightly altered our plans for 2020, we are continuing to march on with advancing our goal of “chemistry education that equips and inspires chemists to solve the grand challenges of sustainability.”


As the December post mentions, we are in the process of developing education modules for undergraduate general and organic chemistry courses that connect green and sustainable chemistry to the chemistry curriculum using a systems thinking lens. Since the project got underway in January, we have been working with collaborators from the InTeGrate Leadership Team, to develop an evaluation rubric for the modules. The InTeGrate team pursued a similar effort to build systems thinking modules for the geosciences.  The goal of the module evaluation rubric is to create a transparent, consistent evaluation tool for module developers to aid in the production of high quality education resources that reinforce the goals of the project.


The rubric evaluates the following areas of the education modules:

  • . Guiding principles of green and sustainable chemistry, systems thinking, and chemistry principles
  • . Learning objectives and goals for each module
  • . Assessment and measurement of student learning
  • . Resources and materials for instructional use
  • . Instructional strategies appropriateness and quality
  • . Alignment of module elements to one another

We are currently in the process of identifying topics for modules that are aligned with the green and sustainable chemistry core competencies that were developed through the education roadmap initiative. The goal is to apply green chemistry principles and systems thinking to topics in the general and organic chemistry curricula in creating new teaching resources.


In the coming months we will begin recruiting module development teams. The groups will be comprised of representatives from a wide variety of institutions and will be supported by experts in pedagogy, systems thinking and green and sustainable chemistry.


Become a Part of the Team!

Whether you are an educator, student or industry scientist, if you are interested in getting involved to shape this endeavor, please contact to discuss ways you can contribute. 

By Cindy Gilbert, M.S., M.Ed., Senior Program Officer, VentureWell


Graphic Created by VentureWell in Partnership with The Lemelson Foundation

Collectively, we are facing unprecedented planetary-scale environmental challenges that are inextricably linked to human activities with significant social and economic implications. We believe that chemists and chemical engineers are some of the very people who will be creating the innovations and ventures that will help to solve the systemic challenges we face. 

Mobilized by The Lemelson Foundation and VentureWell and in collaboration with hundreds of stakeholders across diverse disciplines and sectors, we have been working over the past few years to better understand the needs, opportunities, and barriers to integrating principles of environmental responsibility into engineering education across the US and around the world. We have a dedicated Environmentally Responsible Engineering (ERE) webpage that serves as a one-stop shop for how our efforts have expanded, deepened, and developed over the years in partnership with our stakeholders. 

In particular, we are thrilled to share the recent launch of the Engineering for One Planet: The ERE definition and framework (ERE Framework) that outlines the core and advanced student learning outcomes that all engineers—including chemical engineers—should acquire during their education to become sustainability-focused professionals. The ERE Framework was drafted over the course of six months with over 1,000 direct contributions from over 90 stakeholders from academia, industry, government, non-profits, and professional societies. We encourage you to download and test out the ERE Framework. 

The ERE Framework is grounded in systems thinking and highlights the core technical skills of design (e.g., design thinking), materials choice (e.g., supply chain, life-cycle thinking), and environmental impact measurement (e.g., life-cycle analysis, eco-labelling). We hope that the ACS GCI community will explore the potential application of the ERE Framework to catalyze change in the chemical engineering and chemistry fields within the important context of educating for a systems-inspired and sustainable future. 

We would love to garner your feedback and comments for the next iteration of the ERE Framework and to add your name to the growing list of collaborators. Please use this form to share your comments about the ERE Framework or your ideas of how you would integrate the ERE Framework into the chemical engineering curriculum. We’d love to hear from you!

Before I sign off, I would like to also connect you to a plethora of free online resources that VentureWell has created to support your sustainability-focused curricular change efforts including: 

  • Tools for Design & Sustainability which is a collection of sustainability-focused classroom exercises, videos (including the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop video series), and examples of student work on a range of sustainability topics, including cycle analysis (LCA), whole system mapping, greener materials selection, measuring impacts, etc.
  • Inventing Green: A Toolkit for Sustainable Design which is both a tool for students and a resource for instructors to help early-stage inventors understand how the lifecycle of their products will affect the environment. The toolkit includes a video series and several resources that can be used together, a la carte, or within short workshops, multi-day accelerators, or as part of a university-level engineering or design course.

About VentureWell

VentureWell is a non-profit that supports the creation of solutions and ventures from an emerging generation of science and technology inventors driven to solve global challenges and create lasting impact, and supports the faculty and innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems that are critical to their success. Since its founding nearly 25 years ago, VentureWell has supported and trained more than 7,500 science and technology inventors and innovators, and thousands of their startups are reaching millions of people around the globe. VentureWell actively supports faculty in developing courses and programs to transform I&E education through grants, workshops, training, and an annual conference called OPEN. To date, VentureWell has provided over $12M in faculty grants to over 1,000 schools that have led to the creation of more than 500 new or improved courses and programs at higher educational institutions across the country and engaging thousands of students. Learn more about VentureWell at:

Safety is a core value of the American Chemical Society.  You have likely seen this phrase in recent communications from ACS, such as the announcement of the termination of the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia last month.  This core value of the Society was the driving force behind our decision to transition the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference from an in-person meeting to a virtual event in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


We are heartened by stories of kindness and moments of grace during the current crisis:  Companies and higher education institutions donating PPE to first responders, neighbors bringing groceries to senior citizens, and people donating to restaurant workers while their businesses are closed.  ACS is supporting the scientific community by making COVID-19 related articles published in ACS journals freely available.  Chemical Abstracts Service is providing open access to its COVID-19 antiviral candidate compounds dataset.  In addition, the American Association of Chemistry Teachers has unlocked numerous resources to assist parents and teachers in educating children at home. 


None of us envisioned our current situation when we began planning this year’s conference.  We are all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy as we work remotely and distance ourselves from family and friends.  We understand that, for many of you, the conference is not at the top of your priority list as you teach online and continue to support your students while labs are shuttered. 


During this challenging time, we are committed to offering a high-quality virtual conference that will enable you to share your research breakthroughs and education initiatives with colleagues around the globe.  Conference Co-Chairs Meg Sobkowicz-Kline and Rafa Luque have organized a strong program with input from the Advisory Committee and symposium organizers, and details of the online experience will be posted at as soon as additional information is available.  While we will miss the face-to-face conversations, greeting old friends and meeting new colleagues, we understand that social distancing is key in stopping the spread of this virus.


Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay strong.  We will get through this together.   


Mary sig

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