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Celebrating Earth Day & Sustainability with ACS Student Chapters

Contributor III
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Some of the most enthusiastic green chemistry advocates you can find anywhere are the undergraduate ACS Student Chapter members. At the recent ACS National Meeting in New Orleans, I had a chance to meet many of these students and hear what they are doing to promote sustainability and green chemistry in their communities and universities. As we celebrate Earth Day here in the United States, what better time is there to recognize the creativity and passion of the next generation of chemists!

ACS GCI's Jennifer MacKellar and Dr. David Constable presenting a Green Chemistry Award in New Orleans

to Fresno State ACS Student Affiliate President Brittany Bevier (center). Nick L. Mole, the mascot of the
chapter and the San Joaquin Valley Local Section joins on the left
. Photo Credit: Christine Brennan Schmidt

ACS Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award Ceremony

This year there were 56 ACS Student Chapters who were recognized with a Green Chemistry Award. The award signifies that the chapter engaged in at least three green chemistry outreach and educational activities during the school year. ACS GCI Director, Dr. David Constable and ACS GCI Program Manager, Jennifer MacKellar, presented the awards at the ACS Chapter Awards Ceremony in New Orleans.

Catching up with Successful Green Student Chapters

Monday night at the National Meeting is capped by Sci-Mix—a packed celebration of science which included the "Successful Student Chapter" posters among many others. Dr. David Constable (ACS GCI Director), Jennifer MacKellar (ACS GCI Program Manager), and I (ACS GCI Communications Manager) wound our way through the popcorn-strewn isles to talk to some of the many ACS Student Chapters that were presenting on their green chemistry activities. By no means did we chance to speak with all of the chapters, and many others are doing great green chemistry outreach, but the following selection gives you a sense of the enthusiasm these students have for making an impact in their communities.

Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico

José Mercado and Natalia Fernández, PUCPR Green Chemistry Chair, present their poster 'PUCPR Go Green!'

At Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico (PUCPR) students engaged in a wide variety of activities including designing green chemistry t-shirts and participating in an eco-fashion show, hosting guest lectures on topics such as “Conversion of Biomass to Ethanol for a Green Environment and a Sustainable Economy” and “Impact of Climate Change in the Caribbean Region”, and doing green chemistry demonstrations for other students. This is one active group!

Natalia Fernández, the PUCPR ACS Chapter’s Green Chemistry Chair, says, “Last week, we also had a get together in a park close to our school where we did a scavenger hunt using our green chemistry knowledge to go through different challenges. For example, the players had to decipher the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry that were coded. They also had to make an indicator using flowers, and sort waste between recyclable items and garbage.”

“Applying the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry is important because as future scientists, we have a responsibility to demonstrate to others the importance of protecting our planet,” commented José Mercado, one of the PUCPR students at the National Meeting.

Northeastern University

Christine Dunne, NUSAAC chapter President, and Elise Miner, chapter Vice President,
presenting their chapter's poster “Integrating Green Chemistry into Everyday Life.”

Students at Northeastern University Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (NUSAAC) celebrated Earth Day by holding a campus event promoting green chemistry awareness and by setting up a table at the Boston Museum of Science to educate children and adults alike on environmentally benign alternatives to traditional cleaning products. Other activities the group organized included bringing speakers to campus, including Dr. Berkeley “Buzz” Cue and Dr. John Warner as well as visiting the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. The group also volunteers for Beyond Benign, an organization dedicated to green chemistry education.

“NUSAAC have been pioneers in the green movement on Northeastern's campus and the greater Boston community,” says Dr. Kathleen Cameron, Faculty Advisor in the Dept. of Chemistry. “The group has also been a major player in an effort to make Northeastern University’s chemistry labs more “green” through alternative and new coursework. These efforts earned them the National Green Chemistry Award for which they are most deserving.”

University of Puerto Rico - Aguadilla

Eva Isis Gordian-Rivera and Genesis Millan-Serrano presenting the ACS-UPRAg poster at New Orleans

The University of Puerto Rico – Aguadilla (UPRAg), whose ACS Student Chapter has won the Green Chemistry Award every academic year since 2008-2009, presented a poster demonstrating their green activities. The chapter has a strong commitment to green chemistry and they describe themselves as “a group of scientists with the desire of generating new ways of thinking, creating a movement to help preserve the environment and human health…by giving our community the appropriate education and by explaining the benefit of the Green Chemistry Principles.” As an example of this commitment, the chapter went on a field trip to uncover the chemistry behind the beaches in Puerto Rico and volunteered to do beach conservation. The chapter also publishes a newsletter called “La Idea Química” which features articles and tips on sustainable chemistry.

Angelo State University

Brandon Allen and Marissa Saulnier share Angelo State University’s ACS Chapter’s activities
with ACS GCI Program Manager, Jennifer MacKellar and Director, Dr. David Constable.

At Angelo State University in western Texas, the students will be celebrating Earth Day with a screening of ‘Switch,’ an educational movie about the future of energy and energy efficiency. The group has also done community outreach activities at a city-wide 'Eco Fair', demonstrating a microbial fuel cell (that’s a device that converts chemical energy to electric energy through a bacterial reaction—see this video for an explanation) as well as how polylactic acid (PLA) cups can biodegrade. To reach out to small children, the students put on a ‘Green Chemistry Magic Show.’

In addition to the outreach, there is one sustainability issue at Angelo State that is impossible to ignore: water. Located in a drought stricken region, the city of San Angelo has only 18.2 months of available water supply left. “Water is a critical issue,” says Dr. Edith Osborne, Professor of Chemistry and Faculty Advisor to the chapter. “We want our labs to reflect that we value the water we have.” Finding ways to decrease water consumption in the lab is a top priority. And faced with a very real possibility that there may come a time when the university is required to limit water usage in the buildings, Dr. Osborne says these conservation efforts will make them ready to operate in a water-restricted setting.

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