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International Travel Fellowship Brings Young Green Chemists to U.S.

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The Joseph Breen Memorial Fellowship is awarded to undergraduate through early career scientists who demonstrate outstanding research or educational interest in green chemistry. Breen Fellows receive financial support to participate in an international green chemistry technical meeting, conference or training program.

“All aspects of green chemistry are here,” says Julia Griffen, one of the two Breen Fellows attending the 17th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference (GC&E) in the Washington metropolitan area. “I’m really grateful—it’s not your typical conference—and the Breen Fellowship is what made it possible for me to come here from the UK.” Breen Fellow Michiel Dusselier nods in agreement about the opportunity to attend GC&E. “It’s a broader conference—policy, education, risk-assessments, legislation…it’s more than just technical sessions,” he says two weeks after defending his dissertation in Belgium. Looking for a postdoctoral position, preferably in the U.S., Michiel adds, “I came to the right place to meet the right people.”

2013 Joseph Breen Memorial Fellows Julia Griffen and Michiel Dusselier

Julia was drawn to the GC&E conference not only for the technical session but also to network with colleagues in green chemistry education, communication and social sciences. “In my mind, the ultimate success of green chemistry would be its complete incorporation. All chemistry should be green chemistry,” points out Julia, who developed a course in green chemistry for the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and is currently working on her PhD titled Sustainable routes to potential biologically active azacarbasugars via microbial arene oxidation within the Centre of Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath. Her focus is on the synthesis of biologically active compounds targeted toward type 2 diabetes. Julia’s passion for science communication is evident in her involvement with local schools, organizing science fairs and participating in many public engagement activities. “It’s wonderful to receive this fellowship and the recognition for my green chemistry research and outreach work. I started studying chemistry thinking I would work purely in industry and now there are many green chemistry and outreach options that interest me.”

Michiel, an avid ornithologist and wildlife photographer, was motivated by images of birds harmed by pollution to focus his research in biodegradable polymers. His dissertation addresses Tailoring of catalytic routes towards high performance polylactic acid polymers at the Center for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis at KU Leuven, Belgium. A letter of recommendation explained, “Part of his PhD research—selective conversion of lactic acid to chemicals—is subject of a patent application, and remains therefore silent in literature. The invention has been sold to a chemical company very recently.”

As part of the Breen Fellowship, Michiel and Julia presented their research at the conference, adding to the global perspective of green chemistry at GC&E that attracts nearly 500 participants from around the world. Enthusiastic about science education, the Breen Fellows enjoyed the GC&E Student Workshop they attended prior to the conference and the opportunity to work with younger students in green chemistry. Julia and Michiel are extremely appreciative of the fellowship that recognized their green chemistry research and outreach, and allowed them to make the trip from Europe for focused networking and research exchange. It will be exciting to see how these two Breen Fellows contribute to sustainable chemistry and engineering in the 21st century.