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Student Chapter Highlight: UCLA

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Contributed by Nanetta Pon, Sara Shu, and Grace Woo, University of California, Los Angeles

In 2013, the UCLA ACS student chapter (SMACS) held its fall kick-off meeting with guest-speaker Professor Miguel Garcia-Garibay, chemistry department chair, who talked about his green chemistry research. Grace Woo, the SMACS vice-president at the time, recalls that his presentation “made us realize that green chemistry holds many practical and beneficial applications. Indeed, many research efforts at UCLA focus on the opportunities of green chemistry, but no student groups existed at the time dedicated to informing people about developments in the field of promoting awareness.” Grace was inspired to make green chemistry a focus in SMACS activities.

The chapter began planning events and hosting speakers with a green chemistry focus. Officers wanted to ensure that they created events unique to SMACS, the only undergraduate chemistry group on campus.  To distinguish green chemistry activities from general sustainability activities, they stuck to the 12 principles of green chemistry while planning events. Activities had to address one or more of the principles to be considered part of SMACS’ green chemistry initiative. Application for the ACS Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award served as motivation, reminding officers to remain objective in judging whether events were meeting their green chemistry intentions.

Green chemistry speakers are the core of SMACS’s green chemistry activities. A recent meeting featuring UCLA’s professor Yi Tang, who received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the EPA in 2012, was particularly popular among students. Professor Tang spoke about the biocatalytic synthesis of simvastatin, a blockbuster drug used to treat high cholesterol.  Students had the chance to learn about how pharmaceuticals are developed, and how Dr. Tang’s work produced a greener pathway to a drug already used by millions.

UCLA Earth Day Fair.jpg

Another favorite among members was the tour of the UCLA Cogeneration Plant that provides power, heat and cooling to the university. Students learned about how the plant recycles waste heat and incorporates a pilot desalination membrane system to produce steam and chilled water. At the end of the tour, students identified parts of the facility operation which represented the principles of green chemistry.

And of course, SMACS planned green chemistry activities for Chemists Celebrate Earth Day. The annual UCLA Earth Day Fair, which hosts institutional and student groups, was a perfect venue. SMACS’s booth on personal care products connected chemistry to a broad audience. Officers talked about the chemicals used in consumer products, whose scientific names are hard for many to decipher. Visitors then tried a natural, vegetable glycerin-based moisturizing spray prepared by the students. This community outreach event demonstrated that less hazardous, biodegradable products can serve their purpose as well as more toxic chemicals can.

Asked how green chemistry will benefit in his future career, Samuel Chiang, Internal Vice President, says, “My involvement in green chemistry has taught me that my future experiments, whether in research or in industry, must not only revolve around the final product; the process is equally important, if not more.”  Indeed, our future is pointed into a direction of greener, more environmental-friendly technologies. By introducing a topic so relevant to the world today, the chapter hopes to inspire the future generation of chemists to adopt green chemistry practices into whatever careers they pursue.

Image attribution - Charlotte Xia

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