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Looking Back: The Green Chemistry & Engineering Conferences

Valued Contributor III
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Contributed by Stephen C. DeVito, Ph.D., United States Environmental Protection Agency

It is hard to believe that in July, 2015 the 19th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference will take place. I remember when the Conference was first initiated back in the mid-1990s. My group, the Industrial Chemistry Branch within the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics located in EPA Headquarters in Washington DC, was very involved with the ACS in initiating and organizing the conference. I personally was not too involved, but Drs. Joe Breen (my Branch Chief), Tracy Williamson, Paul Anastas, Carol Farris, and other EPA colleagues of mine were quite involved. One of the big challenge was identifying speakers. At the time green chemistry as a self-standing scientific discipline was in its infancy, perhaps still a neonate. There were very few people doing green chemistry-related research in those days. But, after much searching and vetting, researchers were identified and invited to present their findings at this new conference whose focus was unique and esoteric. Nerves were on edge as the very first Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference approached. But the Conference went very well, and was highly praised.

The Conference gets better each year. I have since been to many Green Chemistry & Engineering Conferences, and have participated in them as a planner, session leader, speaker, keynote speaker, and just an attendee. As the fields of green chemistry and green engineering have evolved and grown, so has the conference. No longer is there difficulty in finding speakers to give high quality presentations on cutting edge, innovative research. Quite the contrary. Nowadays many excellent presentation abstract submissions are received each year with each call for abstracts. Conference planners are often confronted with very difficult decisions as to which abstracts to accept and which to reject.

I have noticed that in recent years the conference has become much more robust in content. For example, more emphasis is placed on the concept of designing safer chemicals. This very important concept was virtually ignored by conference organizers until the 15th Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, which took place in June, 2011. Dr Paul Anastas, who at the time was the Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development and Chief Science Advisor to the EPA Administrator, and Dr Adelina Voutchkova, then a postdoctoral research associate at Yale University (now professor of chemistry at the George Washington University) organized the very first session on designing safer chemicals at a Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. I was very pleased to see this, as I am a huge proponent of the need for safer commercial chemicals to be designed and put into commerce. What made this event even more special, at least for me, was that Paul and Adelina personally invited me to give the keynote address at this session. Needless to say I felt quite honored. The session has since continued at every Conference thereafter.

Unique aspects of the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference are its intimacy, diversity, friendly, somewhat laid-back atmosphere, and that it is neither small nor large. I hope it stays this way because it makes it easy to both meet with old colleagues, and meet new people. At any Conference you will find well-known, revered subject matter experts, as well as, newcomers to the fields of green chemistry and green engineering. Unlike other, larger scientific meetings or conferences, where it is often difficult to meet or speak with well-known people, at the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference it is much easier for novices to meet with experts to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Will I be at the 19th Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in July, 2015? You bet I will! In addition to giving an oral presentation, I will sit-in on many of the sessions, meet-up with colleagues, and network. I hope to see you there!

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