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By: Sarah York & MaryKay Orgill, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


The start of a new school year is always an exciting time. Campus is restored and polished. First-year students are nervous and bursting with energy. Upper-class students and faculty seem refreshed. It’s a time of renewal, a time of excitement, and a time for new friendships and new connections. It’s something we look forward to every year. For many of us, however, this year’s Back to School will look very different than it has in the past.


Instead of pushing our way through crowded pathways across campus to get to our next classes, we might be shuffling down the hallways in our own homes. Instead of engaging in lively discussions with colleagues around campus, we might be having conversations with ourselves while social distancing. The lecture hall full of 200 eager faces will be replaced with a screen of muted squares. From within the safety of our homes, we will grapple not just with teaching and learning chemistry, but with trying to understand the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and its impact on worldwide social, political, and economic climates.


This is a complex time for the world, and it is a complex time for our students. How do we, as instructors, help our students make sense of the complexity they see each day? How do we keep them engaged in learning chemistry when there are so many distractions outside the classroom? How do we help them form meaningful connections in a time when we must connect at a distance? How do we empower our students to succeed in this complex world?


Systems Thinking


While there is clearly not any one solution that will solve all of the problems that we or our students will face this school year, recent calls for the integration of systems thinking into chemistry education seem timely. Systems thinking is “an approach for examining and addressing complex behaviors and phenomena from a holistic perspective.” In a recent publication, we argued that systems thinking is a tool for making sense of complex chemical phenomena; but it is just as much a tool for making sense of any complex system, phenomenon, or problem, including those we are encountering in this unique year.


Research suggests that systems thinking creates an environment for interdisciplinary learning and understanding, allowing students to make connections between concepts and between disciplines. This type of thinking allows students to learn content more deeply and more conceptually, while engaging in a number of important cognitive skills (Table 1). Importantly, proponents of systems thinking claim that this approach develops students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills, while empowering them with the knowledge required to effect change in complex systems—skills and abilities that seem absolutely essential in today’s world.


With benefits such as these, it is not surprising that systems thinking would be the focus of two symposia at the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute’s® 2020 Green Chemistry & Engineering Virtual Conference and the December 2019 special issue of the Journal of Chemical Education. The benefits of systems thinking are not only cognitive, though. Systems thinking has been shown to increase students’ motivation, engagement, and participation. Those of us who taught through the abrupt transition to remote instruction earlier this spring have no doubt heard students comment that they felt unmotivated and disconnected from the content, their peers, and their instructors during this time. What if a systems thinking approach could help our students feel more engaged and more motivated, even in a remote teaching and learning environment?



Table 1. ChEMIST Table: Characteristics Essential for Designing or Modifying Instruction

for a Systems Thinking Approach

(Reproduced with permission. 2020 American Chemical Society.)

A systems thinker

in chemistry education should…

                                                         Systems Thinking Skills*

Less Holistic………………………………………………………………………………………More Holistic

More Analytical/Elaborative…………………………………………………………...Less Analytical/Elaborative

Recognize a system as a whole, not just as a collection of parts

Identify the individual components and processes within a system

Examine the organization of components within the system

Examine a system as a unified whole

Examine the relationships between the parts of a system, and how those interconnections lead to cyclic system behaviors

Identify the ways in which components of a system are connected

Examine positive and negative feedback loops within a system

Identify and explain the causes of cyclic behaviors within a system

Identify variables that cause system behaviors, including unique system-level emergent behaviors

Identify the multiple variables that influence a given system-level behavior; Consider the potential effects of stochastic and “hidden” processes on the system-level behavior


Examine the relative, potentially nonlinear, effects that multiple identified variables have on a given system-level behavior

Identify, examine, and explain (to the extent possible) emergent system-level behaviors

Examine how system behaviors changes over time

Identify system-level behaviors that change over time

Describe how a given system-level behavior change over time

Use system-level behavior-over-time trends under one set of conditions to make predictions about system-level behavior-over-time trends under another set of conditions

Identify interactions between a system and its environment, including the human components of the environment

Identify and describe system boundaries

Consider possible effects of a system’s environment on the system’s behaviors; Consider how the system under study might be a component of and contribute to the behaviors of a larger system

Consider the role of human action on current and future system-level behaviors

* An understanding of complex systems requires both an understanding of the system as a whole and of the components of the system. “Holistic” refers to skills that focus primarily on the system as a whole. “Analytical/Elaborative” refers to skills that primarily focus on the components of a system—not as individual, disaggregated parts---but within the context of the system as a whole. Research suggests that students will benefit the most from systems thinking activities that include both holistic and analytical/elaborative skills.


Systems Thinking Implementation


The current challenge is to envision how a systems thinking approach might be implemented in a remote or virtual chemistry classroom environment. Many of the successful in-person implementations of systems thinking approaches in other STEM disciplines have involved the use of computer simulations. Thus, we believe that a systems thinking approach in chemistry education might be achieved in a remote or virtual environment through the use of online simulations of chemical phenomena.


Many such interactive simulations are readily available online (for example, those provided on the PhET Interactive Simulations website); and most remote learning students will have access to devices that can access these simulations. Instructors can leverage these resources to design systems thinking activities that can be implemented in either remote or in-person chemistry teaching and learning environments. In the Supporting Information for our recent publication, we have provided a discussion of how an instructor might go about designing such an activity.


The start of each school year is an opportunity for renewal and change. Why not take advantage of this time to try a new approach—a systems thinking approach—to motivate students, to engage students, and to help students learn the skills they need to be powerful agents of change in the complex world in which we live?


From J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 2357-67

Reprinted with permission from Hoover, J.M.; Ryland, B.L.; Stahl, S.S.  J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 2357-67 Copyright (2013) American Chemical Society


By Ian Mallov, Ph.D., Research Chemist with Inkbox Ink


Here’s a piece of trivia for you: which of the 12 principles of green chemistry has an entire high-impact American Chemical Society (ACS) journal and a lectureship devoted to it?


If you answered principle #9, catalysis, you answered correctly!


In 2011, ACS launched ACS Catalysis, and with it, the ACS Catalysis Lectureship to recognize innovators of this 9th principle in all its myriad forms.


Catalysis is inextricably linked with green chemistry principles 1 and 2: prevention of waste and atom economy. Using a catalyst can often facilitate the choice of a much more atom-economical reactant, reducing waste generated, and present alternatives to toxic or resource-intensive reagents. This is perhaps best exemplified in the simplest redox chemistry: using H2 as a reductant, or O2 as an oxidant.


It is fitting that this past February, the 9th winner of the lectureship honouring advancers of this 9th principle of green chemistry was announced as Professor Shannon Stahl from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Professor Stahl and his research team were recognized largely for their contributions to oxidation processes using O2 as terminal oxidant, for which Stahl also won a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2014.



Chemical Life Cycle and the Use of Oxidation


“Oxidation reactions are often problematic from a “green” perspective because the reagents often are intrinsically non-green owing to the byproducts they generate,” Stahl says.


Oxidation is, of course, key to a multitude of chemistries at every stage of a chemical life cycle. Every oxygen-containing bulk chemical derived from a petro-feedstock has undergone oxidation. Oxidation is a fundamental tool in fine-tuning chemical structures for use in pharma or materials applications. And, living on earth under our 21% oxygen atmosphere, oxidative degradation mechanisms are ubiquitous.


The contributions of Professor Stahl’s team are, so far, primarily applicable in the middle stages of this chemical life cycle.


To present a classic dilemma: you want to oxidize an alcohol functionality on your molecule to a ketone or aldehyde. As your terminal oxidant, you have several choices commonly available in your organic chemists’ toolbox: classic stoichiometric reagents like chromates and manganates; dimethylsulfoxide via Swern or Parikh-Doering methods; hypervalent iodine reagents. Or, you can use catalytic methods using metals, nitroxyl radicals, or enzymes as catalysts. Some of these use air as terminal oxidant.


The worst of the stoichiometric oxidants both from environmental impact and worker safety perspectives – chromates – are still widely used and taught despite dangers that outweigh their benefits. Hexavalent chromate ions are isostructural to sulfate and phosphate ions. Inside your body, they Trojan-horse their way through sulfate channels into cells, get reduced to trivalent chromium, and complex nucleic acids and proteins, causing mutations that manifest as toxic or cancerous cells.


Kinetic challenges of oxidations often result in the use of strong acids at high concentrations, resulting in dangerous waste that is difficult and resource-intensive to dispose. O2 gas at explosive concentrations, or, where halogenation is desired, toxic chlorine or fluorine gas, pose their own dangers. Literature comparing life cycles of various oxidation agents is scant, but comparing many of these traditional, harsh reagents to, say, air as terminal oxidant offers a stark contrast.


Stahl’s Oxidation Method


Of course, it’s not this simple. However, the thrust of many of Stahl’s oxidation methods is towards using air as a reagent. The aim is for safe, robust, easy and efficient reactions.


A medicinal chemist friend of mine working for a west coast pharmaceutical company told me he actually prefers stoichiometric reagents – “we want something benchtop and weighable” on a small scale, he said. “But I like that there are admixtures (of Stahl’s catalysts) available through MilliporeSigma.”


Much of Stahl’s group’s most widely applied chemistry using air also relies on nitroxyl radical species as oxidants – TEMPO or ABNO. Radicals are often difficult to control, and many are NMR-silent, making detection of leftovers contaminating your end product difficult.


But TEMPO – 2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-N-oxyl – is no typical radical. Even the acronym implies control – something capable, perhaps, of imposing regularity, order on an unruly unpaired electron or headstrong reaction. Stahl’s group has developed easy methods using TEMPO, the bicyclic nitroxyl radical ABNO, and occasionally other similar species to aid their oxidations. In 2011, they reported a highly effective alcohol oxidation in acetonitrile using catalytic TEMPO, copper(I), 2,2’-bipyridine (bipy) ligand and N-methylimidazole (NMI) with oxygen from ambient air as terminal oxidant. Two years later, they followed up with another study delineating the rather complex mechanism.


The procedures are indeed safe, robust, easy and efficient. So easy, in fact, I’ve used them successfully myself in oxidations of primary alcohols (and I’m no organic chemist). The reagents are cheap and readily available.


From ACS Catal. 2013, 3, 1652-56

Reprinted with permission from Kim, J.; Stahl, S.S. ACS Catal. 2013, 3, 1652-56 Copyright (2013) American Chemical Society

 “Stahl’s radical-mediated oxidation of amines to nitriles”


Since then, using TEMPO or ABNO, Stahl’s group has extended this methodology to an impressive variety of transformations – oxidation of amines, carbamates, oxidative amide coupling. The group also studies other oxidation methods, including iron- or palladium-based catalyst systems and, recently electrochemical oxidations, which Stahl sees as holding promise to overcome many of the current challenges with catalytic oxidation. But it is the radical oxidant methods using oxygen from the air that have gained the greatest popularity so far. The commercial availability of the admixtures brings this tool from the metaphorical toolbox to the literal toolbox – or at least, the lab fridge. Most crucially, the procedures avoid the bane of every nervous senior researcher or manager: the use of highly explosive pure O2 gas by their colleagues.


Green Catalysts as Alternatives


It bears repeating – in 2020, there is absolutely no reason, given the alternatives available, to teach the use of chromates and other extremely dangerous reagents in academia, or to use them in industry.


OK, you say – no stoichiometric chromium, only catalyst and air. But what of the other leftovers from Stahl’s methods? In the case of the Cu/TEMPO systems, active catalyst requires the presence of all four ingredients above: the nitroxyl radical, copper, ligand, and base. Neither copper nor pyridines are generally benign reagents. But it can reasonably be concluded that catalytic amounts of copper-bipy/NMI complexes are preferable to stoichiometric chromate waste. Nature recently reported a study of copper-bipy complexes as anti-tumour and anti-inflammatory agents.


And what of the solvent? Most solvent guides assess acetonitrile as being a middling solvent – indeed, few polar aprotic solvents fare well in green solvent assessments. But acetonitrile is far from the worst offender.


There is only one full life cycle assessment that I have come across using TEMPO-type oxidation methods. But given the rapid development of these practical, efficient protocols by Stahl’s group, one can see that they are worthy of strong consideration as green alternatives. Stahl’s award is for the development of methodologies. It remains to be seen whether these methodologies will be widely scaled for use in industry. However, as Stahl points out, “the commodity chemical industry has learned to deal with O2 as an oxidant, so I don’t think the challenges here are insurmountable.”


The development from publication to commercially-available reagents bodes well for the replacement of some venerable but environmentally troublesome tools in the organic chemist’s oxidation toolbox.

Reprinted with permission from Steves, J.E.; Preger, Y.; Martinelli, J.R.; Welch, C.J.; Root, T.W.; Hawkins, J.M.; Stahl, S.S. Org. Proc. Res. Dev. 2015, 19, 1548-53 Copyright (2015) American Chemical Society

“Reaction vessel for small-scale aerobic oxidations”

By Jenny MacKellar, Program Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute & Aurora Ginzburg, Education Specialist, ACS Green Chemistry Institute


As we work towards developing green chemistry education resources for the undergraduate chemistry curriculum, we return to our green chemistry education road map vision: “Chemistry education that will equip and inspire chemists to solve the grand challenges of sustainability.” To achieve this vision, we have embarked on a three-year initiative to develop resources for use in undergraduate general chemistry and organic chemistry courses. The goal of the project is to support educators in bringing green and sustainable chemistry into the classroom using a systems thinking approach while using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as context rich examples. As many sustainability challenges become more pressing and urgent (such as the threat of climate change, ocean plastics, and even diversity, inclusion and respect), it’s imperative that chemists see themselves as agents of change for a more sustainable future.


Chemistry’s role in the UN Sustainable Development Goals


Upon first glance at the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it might be hard to make immediate connections between the role of chemistry and a larger sustainability goal like Quality Education or Good Health and Wellbeing. However, upon closer examination of the underlying targets and indicators of success for these goals, we start to see the connections to chemistry: 


Looking at these indicators we can see that if chemists aren’t educated in a way that equips them to provide solutions to the challenges sustainable development raises and to act as global citizens, they will not be able to design and supply the world with more sustainable chemicals and products.  To do this, a systems thinking approach is paramount.


Systems thinking for Chemistry Education


Systems thinking expands the scales, boundaries, and time frames over which we think about chemistry. In traditional chemistry education a reductionist approach is used to drive understanding of chemistry at scales ranging from the atom to the beaker, within a hood, and over short time frames. This approach is meaningful when seeking to understand how the world works at the atomic level.  However, this approach can be limiting because it doesn’t tell students how that chemistry impacts the world around them.  Where do the materials come from and where do they end up? What is their relative abundance? What are the societal impacts across the supply chain when using these materials?  What is the impact of the chemistry on the local community and the world?


Of course, answering all these questions when teaching fundamental chemistry concepts in an undergraduate chemistry course is not possible.  The intent is to make students aware of these issues and to think about questions like these.  Eventually, students should naturally consider a broad range of key questions when studying chemicals, chemical reactions, or processes.  In short, we are hoping to help students become systems thinkers.


Green and sustainable chemistry strategies provide a toolbox for chemists to develop more sustainable solutions. While green chemistry aims to eliminate or reduce impacts, it is all too common for green chemistry modifications to focus only on the beaker scale and therefore have limited overall improvements in chemical or process sustainability. By using a wider lens with life cycle thinking, improvements at one stage in the life cycle can be weighed against increased or decreased impacts at another stage. Systems thinking further opens the lens to consider the interconnectedness of elements within a system, the emergence of properties from a system, the boundaries being used, and how systems change over time.  Systems thinkers will step back and ask questions like what goals am I trying to achieve and what are the broader implications of my choices?  


Using a systems thinking approach, educators teach chemistry fundamentals but in the context of how chemistry affects the world. This creates opportunities to connect foundational content to the complex systems that impact students’ lives, making the content relevant and useful to them regardless of whether or not they continue on to upper division chemistry courses. 


Chemistry Education Module Development


This is where YOU come in. We’re looking for current chemistry educators and curriculum developers to join us on this module development adventure. Our intent is that these modules will contain green and sustainable chemistry examples, theory, and tools that help educators like you to teach foundational chemistry concepts.  The modules will be crafted with a systems thinking approach to help students connect the content to real-world scenarios with the UN Sustainable Development Goals providing the broader context of the challenges. Of course these modules need to be developed with best practices for effective teaching and learning and be paired with best practices for assessing student learning. We will utilize recent chemistry curricular reform efforts that take an evidence-based approach to teaching foundational concepts.


The goal is not to add additional content to the general or organic chemistry curriculum but rather to change the lens through which the content is taught.


If you are interested in joining a module development team, keep an out for the application coming this fall. The applications will be due in November 2020, and Module Development Teams will be formed by the end of 2020. Module development teams start in January 2021 with a series of virtual workshops to get the teams started. For more information about this project, check out the recording of our most recent webinar.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) just wrapped up its first Virtual National Meeting & Expo.  Pivoting from the planned in-person meeting to an online event proved challenging given the size of the National Meeting.  Despite these challenges, more than 4,000 scientists were able to share their work through the virtual meeting platform, demonstrating that the advancement of science continues even during a pandemic.


ACS staff and volunteers met with several committees during the National Meeting to share preliminary plans for the Society to address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  As you know, the chemical sciences are essential in achieving the SDGs and chemistry is reflected in many of the 17 goals.  Through its sustainable development initiative, ACS hopes to have a measurable impact on the U.N. SDGs during the coming decade. 


The proposed strategy addresses three themes aligned with the SDGs:  Research, Innovation, and Translation (SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure); Sustainable Manufacturing and Chemicals Management (SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production); and Transforming Chemistry Education (SDG 4, Quality Education).  These themes build on ACS’ strengths and capabilities and connect with ACS members across sectors and disciplines.


The Society’s ongoing advocacy efforts support an increased federal focus on sustainable chemistry research, which helps advance the Research, Innovation, and Translation theme.  New models for conducting research can bridge the gap between academic research and commercialization.  Creation of an international collaboration research fund could further accelerate the pace of discovery and implementation of green and sustainable chemistry and engineering technologies.


Policy and regulation also play a role in promoting the second theme of Sustainable Manufacturing and Chemicals Management.  Manufacturing must develop new ways of making products in order to avoid harmful environmental and human health consequences.  New federally sponsored programs, modelled after the Department of Energy’s RAPID Institute, could support academic-industry partnerships in accelerating the deployment of more sustainable manufacturing technologies.


In order to create the workforce needed to apply chemistry to the global challenges articulated in the SDGs, we need to change the way we educate our students.  Chemists need an understanding of life cycle and systems thinking in order to recognize the impact of the choices they make in selecting chemicals, designing syntheses, and formulating products.  Transforming chemistry education, though not an easy task, would better prepare our students to meet the grand challenges of sustainability.


I welcome your feedback on these initiatives related to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, along with your ideas on how ACS can have an impact on the SDGs.  Please send your comments to  Stay safe and I look forward to your input!    


By Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention 


For 25 years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and American Chemical Society (ACS) have worked together to sponsor the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, recognizing leaders in innovative green chemistry. I’m proud to say that we’re once again looking for businesses and individuals to answer the call for nominations for the 2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards.


These prestigious awards recognize innovation by American businesses and researchers that redesign chemical products and processes to reduce or eliminate the use and manufacture of hazardous substances. These innovations help keep businesses globally competitive, prevent pollution at its source, and protect public health and the environment.


For example, one of this year’s winners developed a new pesticide based on a naturally occurring component of spider venom that effectively controls target pests while showing no adverse effects to people or the environment. Another winner improved the process for producing certain antiviral drugs that increases manufacturing efficiency, reduces waste, and results in costs savings. These innovations, along with those of this year’s other winners, are amazing accomplishments, and we were proud to recognize them with an award.


Our efforts to recognize, encourage, and speed the adoption of green chemistry have produced real results. Through 2019, Green Chemistry Challenge Award-winning technologies have provided big opportunities for pollution prevention, including:

  • Eliminating 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents each year—enough to fill almost 3,800 railroad tank cars or a train nearly 47 miles long; and,
  • Saving 21 billion gallons of water each year—the amount used by 820,000 people annually.


The 2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards nomination package is now available and nominations are due by December 4, 2020. We’ll also be hosting a webinar on September 23, 2020, for those interested in applying to provide an overview of the requirements and criteria and tips for submitting your application package. Register for the webinar.


If you’ve developed a new technology or redesigned a process that helps solve real world environmental challenges, this is your chance to join the list of over 120 distinguished award winners. I know that EPA and ACS are excited to learn more about the latest advancements in green chemistry.


By Dan Bailey, 2020 Peter J. Dunn Award for Green Chemistry Winner


My interest in green chemistry started with a simple realization about how we do chemistry: we produce far more waste than actual products.


I joined the process chemistry group at Takeda Pharmaceuticals in 2009, the summer after I graduated from Brown University with undergraduate degrees in chemistry and anthropology. Completing a two-year independent research project as an undergraduate provided me with just enough lab experience to begin a career in process chemistry, although I still had an enormous amount to learn on the job.


My undergraduate coursework in anthropology, on the other hand, left me with an enduring interest in the human side of chemistry and the discipline’s practical societal impacts. In my first few years at Takeda, I gained a firmer understanding of the goals, methods and other technical aspects of developing pharmaceutical manufacturing processes, but I also began to think more critically about the practical effects of my work. Which brings us back to my realization about waste, a realization I would later learn is connected to the concept of systems thinking.*


It’s obvious in retrospect, and I’m not the first to point this out: nearly everything we do as chemists, each synthetic transformation, each extraction and wash, each distillation, each crystallization and filtration, produces an ever-expanding pool of waste. We’ve developed such an efficient system for removing and disposing of this waste that the problem was almost invisible as I went about my day-to-day lab work. But once I’d noticed the sheer quantity of waste we produce in our lab and, especially, in the manufacturing plants I visited, it changed the way I thought about my work as a process chemist.


Each decision I made took on new urgency. Even seemingly insignificant and arbitrary decisions – unnecessarily dilute reaction conditions or an extra wash – could ripple outward, making their way into a manufacturing process where their effects are amplified many times over.


As I began to think more carefully about efficiency and waste avoidance in my work, I began reading about green chemistry and started advocating for incorporating green chemistry approaches into our work at Takeda. Around this time, Dave Leahy, a new associate director with a background in green chemistry, joined the process chemistry group and, together, we began building a green chemistry program.


We introduced tools and resources for bench chemists. We measured and tracked the efficiency of our manufacturing processes, promoted awareness of green chemistry principles in day-to-day work and collaborated pre-competitively with likeminded chemists at other companies through the ACS Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable.


The more I learned about green chemistry, the more I became aware of the scope of the challenge facing the pharmaceutical industry. It isn’t just that we generate hundreds of kilograms of waste for every kilogram of active pharmaceutical ingredient we make. We also use solvents and reagents that pose an inherent risk to the health and safety of workers. We rely on non-renewable fossil fuels for the raw materials to make medicines, and our manufacturing processes are responsible for significant volatile organic compound and greenhouse gas emissions.


As an industry, we’re producing medicines that change people’s lives for the better, but like all chemical manufacturing industries, we’re also contributing to the greatest problem of our time – the accelerating environmental degradation of the planet.


It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, but I also find it deeply motivating. The carbon emissions associated with manufacturing a single batch of active pharmaceutical ingredient can easily exceed 100 metric tons. To offset these emissions in my personal life, I’d have to avoid taking 75 round-trip transatlantic flights or avoid driving 300,000 miles. But in my work as a process chemist, I have the opportunity to make a huge impact on carbon emissions, waste generation, and worker safety by designing safer, more efficient manufacturing processes.


Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to begin working toward a different and more sustainable future. What began as a side project evaluating chemistry-in-water methodology with two student interns evolved into a full-fledged manufacturing process conducted almost entirely in water. This work, which received this year’s Peter J. Dunn Award for Green Chemistry, established by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute® Pharmaceutical Roundtable, allowed me to glimpse a future without organic solvents. 


Viewing my work from an anthropological perspective has allowed me to see that our approach to chemistry and chemical manufacturing is not an immutable scientific fact. It’s the cumulative result of over a hundred years of human decisions, many of them anonymous and ultimately ill-considered. We can, and must, do better.


As chemists, each of us, whether we work in industry or academia, has a responsibility to rethink how we do chemistry and begin imagining a radically different and more sustainable future. A future where chemical feedstocks are renewable and organic solvents are no longer needed, where chemical products are designed with safety and non-persistence in mind, where chemistry research and chemical manufacturing are carbon neutral, and where pharmaceutical manufacturing plants no longer need holding tanks for waste.


To make this future a reality, we must place the human side of chemistry at the center of our work.


Dan Bailey is a Process Chemist at Takeda Pharmaceuticals.



* Systems thinking in chemistry involves taking a holistic approach to the products we make and considering their economic, governmental, and environmental impacts before we design the product.[1],[2] It requires thinking about the inputs we use to make a product and where we are sourcing them from. It means looking at the process used to make the product and finding ways to reduce waste safely. It also includes thinking about the safety aspects during the product lifetime and how to reuse and recycle the components at the end of the product’s life cycle.


[1] York, Sarah and Orgill, MaryKay, “ChEMIST Table: A Tool for Designing or Modifying Instruction for a Systems Thinking Approach to Chemistry Education,” Journal of Chemical Education, April 21, 2020, Page D,

[2] Talanquer, Vicente, “Some Insights into Assessing Chemical Systems Thinking,” Journal of Chemical Education, June 12, 2019, 96, 2910-2925, https:/


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