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!
Ed Brush, Ph.D., Bridgewater State University
Grace Lasker, Ph.D., University of Washington
Session: Green Chemistry = Social and Environmental Justice: Theory and Practice
Q: What motivates you to work in the green chemistry & engineering space?
A: Ed Brush: My childhood on the eastern end of Long Island in New York had a significant impact on my awareness of environmental issues and career path. My grandfather was a potato farmer who used DDT, which very likely contributed to his passing from bone cancer. As an eighth grader, I participated in the first Earth Day back in 1970. When I first became aware of green chemistry in 1999, I knew that this was where I wanted to be. As a chemistry educator, my teaching, research and outreach efforts have been focused on bringing my students greater awareness on environmental issues and the benefits of green chemistry. My professional contributions involve engaging with colleagues to reach a broader audience.
Grace Lasker: My scholarship as well as teaching centers around education concerning low dose, chronic chemical exposure and health: Many of the exposure issues we face might have been avoided if we had considered toxicological affects during the design phase rather than after they were sent to market. Furthermore, we know through extensive research that there are racial, socioeconomic and gender divides for chemical exposures and resulting health disparities. Green chemistry is a part of the holistic solution to prevent these issues for the next generation.
Q: In one sentence, describe the session you are organizing at GC&E.
A: The social justice and green chemistry symposium is designed to increase awareness of exposure disparities in our population and draw light to the crucial need for designing chemicals with toxicity endpoints in mind due to the real impact some of these chemicals have on our vulnerable populations.
Q: What will attendees learn at your GC&E session? What makes it unique?
A: The intersection of social justice and green chemistry is still in its infancy. Attendees have the opportunity to network and become a member of a team of scientists, educators, policy-makers, engineers and others who can have real impacts on reducing chemical exposure and health disparities in vulnerable populations.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of the GC&E Conference (or what are you looking forward to)?
A: Ed Brush: I attended my first GC&E in 2003 and have been coming back ever since as I am always pleasantly surprised by the diverse topics covered through symposia, plenary speakers, and posters. My favorite aspect is being able to share new ideas with a multidisciplinary group of attendees, receive constructive feedback, and form professional collaborations.
Grace Lasker: This is my first time attending this conference, so I am most excited to meet others who are passionate in approaching chemical design not just from a functional standpoint, but from a toxicological impact standpoint. I am also looking forward to meeting educators who teach in these areas to see what their pedagogical approaches are and learn how to become a better educator.
Q: What are you currently focused on in your work or research?
A: Ed Brush: My primary teaching responsibility is in organic chemistry, where I have worked to bring green chemistry into the laboratory. My research is done with undergraduate students who aim to apply green chemistry and sustainability principles to the synthesis of small organic molecules with potential therapeutic effects. We are also very interested in exploring the social (in)justice of exposure to harmful chemicals by looking at diesel exhaust and caffeine exposure in children. Additionally, I am the coordinator of Project GreenLab, an outreach initiative aimed at helping high school and middle school educators bring green chemistry into their classrooms.
Grace Lasker: Much of my research and teaching is currently focused on the public health aspects of chemical exposure, along with related social and environmental justice issues. I am also a certified nutritionist, so chemical exposure through food is another focus of mine by way of consumer education and advocacy in a right-to-know philosophy. Most everyone I encounter and talk to about chemical exposure have no idea that there is even something out there, much less that research is showing more and more that low dose, chronic exposures are correlated with negative health outcomes. I believe everyone has a right to know this regardless of educational status, socioeconomic status, etc. My goal is to develop educational materials/courses/programs at all levels (consumer, primary, secondary, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate) to help individuals understand the growing risk and learn how they can make small changes to reduce their potential exposures.
Q: If you weren't a chemist, what would you be doing?
A: Ed Brush: That is a tough question as I grew up with a chemistry set and love my work as a professional chemist! Given the challenges faced by science today and impacts on society, I may very well have gone into politics.
Grace Lasker: I am actually not a chemist. My graduate degrees are in molecular genetics, nutrition, and public health. I can say confidently though that chemistry is present in all of these disciplines, and I carry those principles with me to think critically about all things I encounter.
Q: When you aren't at work, how do you spend your free time?
A: Ed Brush: As an educator, it sometimes seems that my work follows me everywhere! In summer, my wife and I spend a lot of time gardening, canning, freezing and, of course, cooking!
Grace Lasker: I have a four-year-old, a six-year-old, and an engineer husband. We are usually building Lego structures, putting together circuits, playing board and card games, or building things in the shop. I write fantasy as well, so I like to pretend I have enough time to write my next novel!
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