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Green Chemistry and the Canisius College

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Contributed by Ben Swanson, President, Trevor Tumiel, Treasurer, and Phil Sheridan, Faculty Advisor, SCACS, Canisius College

During this past spring, the Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society (SCACS) at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, organized several events related to green chemistry. 

First, we invited David Nalewajek, Ph.D., Research Fellow at Honeywell International’s Buffalo Research Laboratories, to present a seminar to our Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  Dr. Nalewajek is a 1974 graduate of our department and was elected an ACS Fellow in 2015.  His seminar, "A Successful Response to a Global Environment Issue: The Montreal and Kyoto Protocols and Non-Ozone Depleting, Low Greenhouse Warming CFC Replacements" focused on causes of ozone depletion and the chemistry that he helped develop to create ozone-friendly CFC replacement compounds with low global warming potentialAfter the seminar, one attendee remarked, “Many times chemical companies are portrayed as having little to no concern for the environment. Dr. Nalewajek’s seminar illustrated how Honeywell’s development of CFC replacements was a clear example of a chemical company protecting the environment through green chemistry.” Another commented, “It was interesting to hear that global responses to climate change, not just U.S. policy, can drive the standards which a global company such as Honeywell must take into account when developing and selling chemical products.”  One student summed up the event by saying, "It was great to learn about environmentally important and innovative chemistry being done in our own backyard.”

Honeywell 8.PNGBuilding on the interest in green chemistry generated by Dr. Nalewajek’s seminar, we subsequently organized a tour of Honeywell International’s Buffalo Research Laboratories. Our goal was to learn more about their green chemistry initiatives and to explore chemical industry in the Buffalo area. Our group toured several laboratories at the facility, each of which was focused on developing greener and safer alternatives to a variety of important chemical products, including foams, aerosol propellants and air conditioning refrigerants.  We also visited the on-site large scale chemical production facility.  One student commented, "I really enjoyed seeing up close the green chemistry happening right here in Buffalo. The tour gave me a much deeper appreciation for how chemicals are developed and produced in industry. It was also great to recognize techniques and instrumentation that I have used in my undergraduate research."

As part of our chapter outreach, we included a green chemistry activity in a series of hands-on science experiments conducted with 3rd grade students at Windermere Boulevard Elementary School in Amherst, NY.  The 3rd grade students were divided into small groups, with two SCACS members leading each group.  Our experiments included coded messages with invisible (indicator) ink, exploring the hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties of regular sand and homemade magic sand, and creating a cloud in a jar. The visit concluded with making (and eating!) liquid nitrogen ice cream. Cloud-in-a-jar was meant to demonstrate environmental considerations. In this experiment, we gave each 3rd grade student a tall glass into which a small portion of boiling water was poured.  Next, they placed a watch glass over the opening and then put an ice cube on top. When asked what they observed, the students noticed that water vapor only condensed on the inside of the glass. 

Honeywell 9.PNGThe 3rd graders were then asked to repeat the experiment, but this time either a lit match or hairspray was added into the glass by a Canisius student before covering.  Again the 3rd graders were asked to observe what happened. In contrast to the first trial, they now noted that water vapor also condensed inside the glass, forming a white, wispy cloud. They were able to recognize that the soot or hairspray aerosols were necessary for cloud formation.  We then asked the students how pollutants from burning fossil fuels (i.e. smokestack emissions) could play a role in cloud formation1.  We concluded the experiment by discussing ways in which the 3rd grade students could help reduce pollution (i. e. walking or riding a bike instead of driving). Describing his experience working with the 3rd graders that day, one SCACS member commented, "It was amazing to see the enthusiasm generated by doing hands-on experiments. Plus, the cloud in a jar activity triggered many comments from the kids about environmental issues.”

Increasing our department’s awareness of green chemistry was an overall positive experience for everyone involved.  We encourage other chapters to seek out green chemistry speakers from local industries or universities.  Incorporating a green chemistry activity into a larger outreach effort is a great way to spread green chemistry ideas to a younger audience.

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[1]  Kaufman, J.; Koren, I. Science 2006, 313, 655-658.

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