Featured GC&E Organizer: Hans Plugge, 3E Company; Longzhu Shen, Yale University; and Alexandra Maertens, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

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Leading up to the GC&E Conference we will be posting interviews with our 2017 GC&E Conference organizers to learn a little more about them and the excellent sessions you can look forward to at this year’s conference!

ShenPluggeMaertens.pngHans Plugge, 3E Company; Longzhu Shen, Yale University; and Alexandra Maertens, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Session: Sustainable chemicals: techniques for modeling hazard/risk assessment

Q: What motivates you to work in the green chemistry & engineering space? 

A: Hans Plugge: Using big data to make a difference and build a more sustainable economy. I am interested in the analysis of existing data to predict toxicology with more accuracy than we have at the moment. Eventually, I would like to see "data not available" replaced with an accurate estimated value.

Longzhu Shen: With human civilization’s increasing dependence on commercial chemicals and chemical products, the evidence of undesired biological and environmental consequences associated with them has been causing growing concerns within the scientific community and among the general public. These concerns have reached a point that requires paradigm-shifting strategies to put us onto a sustainable development track. The fourth principle of green chemistry answers this call by proposing the idea of safer, alternative molecular design, and this motivates many chemists, including myself, to pursue innovative algorithms that guide safer chemical design.

Alexandra Maertens: After working in regulatory toxicology, I realized that there are very few tools available for R&D chemists looking to design safer chemicals – there was no “green toxicology” to work with green chemistry. Many of the existing tools of toxicology use black box animal models that tell you if a chemical has a high hazard, but provide almost no information for chemists to design less hazardous alternatives. Toxicology has to provide chemists with better tools for hazard assessment.

Q: In one sentence, describe the session you are organizing at GC&E. 

A: Hans Plugge, Longzhu Shen and Alexandra Maertens: This full day session will explore the existing tools used to assess hazard, discuss tools that are in development and next steps, and hopefully leave everyone optimistic about developing a 21st century hazard assessment.

Q: What will attendees learn at your GC&E session? What makes it unique? 

A: Hans Plugge, Longzhu Shen and Alexandra Maertens: Attendees should walk away with a clear idea of what existing tools for hazard assessment can guide molecular design, what the limits are of existing tools, and what techniques and approaches are being developed to allow chemists to screen compounds efficiently for hazard. Regulatory toxicology may be slow to change, but the methods that are being developed can be adopted quickly by companies looking to design less hazardous compounds.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of the GC&E Conference (or what are you looking forward to)? 

A: Hans Plugge: Visiting the posters, engaging one-on-one with researchers, and seeing new applications of existing methodologies. It is a relatively small conference, but it draws great crowd participation and actually too many tracks to follow everything of interest! Learning here always surprises me: I went to a session on shoe wear made from recycled materials last year and found it fascinating. 3E Company's product made significant changes as a result of GC&E interactions.

Longzhu Shen: I love the social networking breaks and would love to have more of them in future meetings.

Alexandra Maertens: I enjoy the chance to work with chemists and find out what they find useful and what they find frustrating about hazard assessment, as well as the fact that it is a great conference for social networking.

Q: What are you currently focused on in your work or research?

A: Hans Plugge: I build hazard and risk assessment software to further enhance chemists’ ability to inexpensively screen commercial mixtures and/or products. Though there are several manual versions, a beta version is now available as a software subscription that includes insurance, industrial hygiene, R&D and alternative assessments applications.

Longzhu Shen: My research focuses on developing algorithms to guide safer chemical design.

Alexandra Maertens: I focus on using machine-learning techniques to leverage large-scale data sets, such as Toxcast and ECHA, in order to provide an understanding on how chemicals can cause adverse effects at the molecular level.

Q: If you weren't a chemist, what would you be doing?

A: Hans Plugge: I would probably pick up a degree in the history of science, most likely in relation to railroads.

Longzhu Shen: I would probably major in physics.

Alexandra Maertens: I would probably be in computer science.

Q: When you aren't at work, how do you spend your free time?

A: Hans Plugge: Playing with (full-size) trains. I belong to a club that owns a 1923 Pullman train car, which we rent out on private charter or run organized trips on. I do not have enough vacation time presently for my favorite hobby – cooking in a miniature kitchen – but it is also a good way to peek behind-the-scenes at what Amtrak does. Ninety percent of the trips we organize feature our train car as the tail-end “charlie” on an Amtrak. Wherever they, go we go. I also try to save one week of vacation every year for a long trip down to cities like Miami and New Orleans. Otherwise, weekend trips will have to do.

Longzhu Shen: I enjoy deep thinking during my hikes in my spare time.

Alexandra Maertens: I like to travel – last year, I went to Japan with my son; this year, we are off to England for the summer.

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