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Reimagine Chemistry Education for a Sustainable Future

ACSGCI
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By Adelina Voutchkova-Kostal, David A. Laviska, and Christiana Briddell, ACS Green Chemistry Institute

 

Chemistry education is undergoing a transformation. To support this change, we highlight our campaign to bring new resources and focus on green chemistry and engineering education and training.

By Adelina Voutchkova-Kostal, David A. Laviska, and Christiana Briddell, ACS Green Chemistry Institute/Office of Sustainability, American Chemical Society

Chemistry education is undergoing a transformation. As we grapple with the growing body of fundamental concepts being taught in the undergraduate curriculum, we are beginning to appreciate that solutions to sustainability challenges require interconnected systems. In the same light, the most exciting innovations are emerging at the intersection of disciplines, such as biology and chemistry, and computer science and chemistry. In industry, global sustainability goals are reframing corporate strategies, increasing collaboration and transparency, and increasing the willingness to invest in strategies to save energy, minimize material use, and reduce pollution and waste. Advocates are pushing for new approaches to chemical manufacturing that minimize impact trade-offs and deliver safer chemicals by design rather than identifying problematic chemicals years after their introductioninto the market. 

These converging challenges have led to a growing recognition that young chemists are graduating into a world where they need the skillset that green chemistry, green engineering, and sustainability provide to develop technologies that advance U.N. Sustainable Development Goals while minimizing trade-offs and unintended consequences. Many universities and educators are responding to this call, but it is challenging to adopt new and/or significantly revised curricula and find the time and resources to train instructors in these new fundamental concepts as well as the new approach to teaching in systems. Both educators, professional chemists and engineers in industry, and corporate leaders need support to make this transition successful. 

Recognizing this challenge, the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future, a multifaceted initiative funded by the ACS Board of Directors, is rolling out an education campaign, Reimagining Chemistry Education Campaign, in partnership with the ACS Green Chemistry Institute and key education leaders and organizations. The Reimagining Chemistry Education Campaign brings significant resources and focus on enabling green chemistry and engineering implementation in the education sector, with a particular focus on higher education and professional development. This campaign builds on decades of pioneering work by chemistry educators, ACS groups such as the Green Chemistry Institute and the Division of Education, as well as key external organizations such as Beyond Benign. The Campaign will address several key areas, as outlined below. 

 

Technical Training Opportunities for Professionals and Students 

 

The ACS will develop courses available both as self-paced online units and live in-person workshops to give chemistry graduates, professional chemists, and those who work with chemists training in a variety of topics they are not likely to have learned at the university. These courses include: 

  • Design of Safer Chemicals 
  • Applying Green Chemistry Metrics 
  • Life Cycle Analysis for Chemists 
  • Greening Your Laboratories 
  • Green Chemistry & Systems Thinking for Gateway Courses and Beyond  
  • Practical Green Chemistry for R&D 
  • The Chemistry of Sustainability for Industry Professionals 

Initial workshops will be held at the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Long Beach, CA, in June and the ACS Fall 2023 meeting in San Francisco in August. 

In addition, the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable has relaunched its Green Chemistry and Engineering e-Learning Platform “GreenCEL” (formerly Chem21). This free resource provides training in green and sustainable synthesis and process chemistry methodologies. Users are able to walk through modules step-by-step, watch videos, and take quizzes to test their knowledge. 

 

Developing Undergraduate Curricula in Green Chemistry and Systems Thinking 

 

In 2023, the multi-year effort by dozens of educators to develop modules that incorporate systems thinking and green chemistry and engineering into topics typically taught in the standard, ACS-certified curriculum for Organic and General Chemistry will begin to roll out. These modules will be disseminated for free online, and workshops and events will be held to help educators adopt them, including a workshop at the GC&E Conference in Long Beach, CA, and a dedicated education summit planned for December 2023 in Washington, DC (see below for details). 

In addition, ACS is launching Curriculum Development Awards to support primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) looking for support in the development of systems thinking-based green chemistry and/or engineering content. The grant supports a two-month summer salary ($10k) and a stipend for a student(s) research assistant ($5k). 

Finally, ACS GCI is also committed to promoting partner and community resources and opportunities that align with supporting curricular changes (e.g., Beyond Benign's Green Chemistry Education Challenge Awards).

Supporting Graduate/Postdoctoral Education and Training 

 

The ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy has been a catalyst for developing leaders and champions of green chemistry for the past 20 years. The all-expense-paid week-long program brings future leaders from North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean together for guest lectures, poster presentations, network building, and fun activities. This year’s cohort will once again meet in Golden, CO, at the Colorado School of Mines in July. Moving forward, we will be partnering with the ACS Education Division’s LEADS program to leverage additional learning and networking opportunities for long-term connections with peers and academic and industry professionals.  

The new Sustainability Research Grants Program, announced in March as part of the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future, ties an education component into research funding. Academic researchers who win these substantial grants will be required to teach a green chemistry course or incorporate green chemistry into an existing course, as part of the grant requirement. Awardees will receive support in the form of a teacher training workshop and curricular materials from the ACS Green Chemistry Institute and Beyond Benign. 

 

Building a Community of Practice 

 

One of the most significant bottlenecks slowing down the expansion and propagation of the principles of green chemistry and engineering across the education sector has been the absence of effective communication between instructors, including collaboration between institutions of higher education, recognition of innovation in the classroom or laboratory, shared access to curricular resources, and personalized mentoring. To begin addressing this challenge, ACS, in collaboration with key education partner Beyond Benign, will be supporting the growth of a community of practice that helps break down barriers, acknowledges and celebrates innovations, and encourages collaborative curricular development in all its forms. 

  • This year, the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future Summit will focus on UN SDG #4: Quality Education. ACS will invite educators, as well as academic and industry professionals, for training, brainstorming, and collaboration around best practices in incorporating green chemistry and engineering into the undergraduate curriculum. 
  • ACS continues to partner with Beyond Benign in the development of the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC), which is due to launch in 2023. This web platform will connect community members and feature vetted teaching resources (including the ACS GCI Education Modules). 
  • A version of the Greening Your Laboratories workshop for faculty will launch in 2023, with participants becoming the next generation of trainers in promoting this practical way to engage students in understanding how and why greener choices are made in labs. 

 

Recognizing Excellence in Teaching Green Chemistry 

 

Our new Career Achievement Award, cosponsored by the Committee on Environmental Sustainability, will recognize instructors who have made a significant contribution to green chemistry in education over the course of their careers. The awardee will be honored at the annual Green Chemistry and Education Conference. Similarly, a Rising Stars in Green Chemistry Education award will recognize early-career educators from the U.S. and abroad who have committed to teaching green chemistry, chemical engineering, or a closely related field. Awardees receive travel funding to attend the GC&E Conference plus an honorarium. 

More information about the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future can be found at www.acs.org/sustainability.