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Looking Forward to the Conference with Co-Chairs Jessop and Brennecke

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With the GC&E/GSC-9 Conference only a month and a half away, we caught up with Co-Chairs, Prof. Philip Jessop (Queen’s University) and Prof. Joan Brennecke (University of Texas at Austin) to ask them for highlights and insights on the program.

What are you looking forward to at this year’s Conference?

JB: I’m really looking forward to the tremendous diversity that we’re going to have at this year’s conference. Since it is both the 23rd Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference AND the 9th International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry, we’ll have researchers and practitioners from around the globe. Presentations will range from very fundamental to product commercialization. There will be representatives from a variety of industries, as well as academic researchers from numerous fields. I hope this will create a lively venue for cross-fertilization and inspiration.

PJ: I agree. I’m also looking forward to the extra diversity that we hope to get from the combined event, and the combination benefits from the different foci of those two conference series. The more North American, industrial and applied chemistry aspects of the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, and the more international, academic and basic science aspects of the International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry. Combining these different topics makes for a better conference AND better green chemistry! Solving the plastic waste problem, for example, needs a collaboration between the users of polymers in industry and the academics doing fundamental molecular redesign. One working without the other will never get the job done!

Why is the Conference theme of “Closing the Loop” important to chemistry and engineering?

PJ: The plastic waste problem that’s hitting the headlines these days is symptomatic of the damage caused by a throw-it-away society. We need to transform into a society based upon re-use and recycle, just like nature where even wastes like animal dung are vital and beneficial to the system. That means a complete redesign of our society, starting with our chemistry and engineering.

JB: Closing the loop means several things in the context of green chemistry and engineering. Most importantly, it means understanding how green chemistry and engineering innovations impact the whole system. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and other tools are key to this understanding. It also means better use of chemicals and materials, through reuse, recycle and repurposing. Finally, it means advancing fundamental scientific discoveries to innovation and commercialization, which will then create new fundamental green chemistry and engineering questions. All of these are important to chemistry and engineering because they form the basis of a more sustainable chemical enterprise, which is necessary for a more sustainable planet.

How can student attendees get the most out of the conference?

JB: The first thing that students should do is attend the student workshop on Monday. If a student has ever had the slightest interest in starting a company to commercialize a green chemistry or engineering product or process, they absolutely must attend this workshop. The second thing they need to do is talk to people – other students, speakers whose work interests them, industry representatives, etc. That’s what all the networking breaks are all about. You never know – you might find your postdoc advisor or your next job during Green Chemistry on Tap! Finally, study the program ahead of time and plan your schedule so that you don’t miss any of the talks that you find interesting.

PJ: Don’t focus on the details – they're not important. Focus on the bigger picture of each talk. Why (and how) did the speaker select this particular problem to work on? How did the speaker assess whether their proposed solution is greener than what was done before? In terms of the science, those are the two most important things you can take away from the Conference. Also don’t be afraid to approach speakers afterwards, such as during coffee breaks. Ask them about how they make such decisions. Collect the answers to those questions and use them to guide your own research in the future.