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Reimagining Chemistry Education for a More Sustainable Future

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By Jenny MacKellar, Program Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute

Here at ACS GCI, ensuring that the next generation of chemists is educated with a green chemistry perspective is one of our strategic priorities. Over the years, ACS GCI has developed and led many programs to support this objective, such as our awards programs, student workshops, summer school, and webinars and other resources for ACS undergraduate chemistry chapters. However, we realized the development of a green chemistry education roadmap was needed—a strategic initiative that articulates the goals, implementation strategies and resources needed, while aligning the community around its vision.

The vision of the roadmap is to advance chemistry education that equips and inspires chemists to solve the grand challenges of sustainability. Our multi-pronged approach to addressing this vision includes:

  1. Describing what green chemistry looks like in the practice of chemistry
  2. Identifying what students need to know to advance sustainability
  3. Offering professional development opportunities to enable faculty to effectively teach green and sustainable chemistry concepts
  4. Creating pull, or demand, from employers seeking to hire chemists with this type of knowledge

Through a series of workshops with green chemistry and chemistry education practitioners, a set of green chemistry core competencies for chemistry graduates was developed. The core competencies are highly aspirational, inspirational goals for the next generation of chemists. In order to achieve these goals, a systems thinking approach to chemistry is necessary. However, since the vision and competencies are very high level, extensive work needs to be done to bridge from the aspirational ideas to concrete examples.

We are using a multi-pronged approach to advance the vision of the green chemistry education roadmap and adoption of green chemistry into the undergraduate curriculum. One of these approaches has been a partnership with the ACS Examinations Institute to develop a green chemistry theme for the organic and general chemistry Anchoring Concepts Content Maps (ACCM). This process was described in a publication released last week in the Journal of Chemical Education.

The product of this collaboration draws connections between green chemistry concepts and the typical content found in general chemistry and organic chemistry courses. Using the ACCMs, we are able to demonstrate that we are not removing fundamental chemistry concepts in favor of green chemistry, rather we are suggesting modifications to existing concepts that would better prepare students to practice chemistry in a more sustainable way.

Another reality that we are facing is a crowded curriculum. Demonstrating where green chemistry concepts fit into the foundational chemistry content will also help educators select the most appropriate and meaningful examples for their setting. We understand that flexibility is paramount and that no two institutions are the same.

Over the next three years, we will use the green chemistry-themed ACCMs to develop education materials and host capacity-building, or train-the-trainer, workshops to support educators in adopting green chemistry content into their courses. As we move forward with this project, one of the most important things we can have is strong support and engagement from this community and the chemistry education community. We need your candid and productive participation in this process to create the best possible materials and to help create the network to support educators. We will be partnering with other key stakeholders in the community to move this forward as well. So how would you like to be involved? Contact us at