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Students are Green Chemistry Leaders in Toronto

ACSGCI
Honored Contributor
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By Francisco Yarur (Graduate Student at the University of Toronto) with an introduction by David A. Laviska (ACS Green Chemistry Institute)

As described in the summary that follows, proactive, creative students at the University of Toronto have been focused on issues related to green chemistry and sustainability in teaching and research for more than a decade.

By Francisco Yarur (Graduate Student at the University of Toronto) with an introduction by David A. Laviska (ACS Green Chemistry Institute)

One of our strategic objectives at the ACS Green Chemistry Institute involves building and supporting collaborative relationships across the global green chemistry community. As described in the summary that follows, proactive, creative students at the University of Toronto (U of T) have been focused on issues related to green chemistry and sustainability in teaching and research for more than a decade. It was a privilege for me to join their annual symposium this year (May 18-19), and I was deeply impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and the professionalism with which they programmed and executed a thoroughly enjoyable, impactful two-day event.

The student organization at U of T has translated their passionate commitment to building a more sustainable future for our planet into action by organizing this symposium to educate and spread the word to their peers and beyond. They are truly exceptional in their unity of purpose and should be a model for student organizations everywhere. I want to especially commend graduate student Francisco Yarur who led the programming and overall coordination of the event with excellence from start to finish. It is our intention at the ACS Green Chemistry Institute to continue amplifying these sorts of initiatives and support further propagation of the fundamental value of green chemistry and its connections to innovation and community.

—David Laviska

 

The Legacy

The Green Chemistry Initiative at the U of T is a student-led organization founded in 2010. Our aim is to provide resources for the implementation of green and sustainable chemistry practices across research and education. Among the many activities that we do throughout the year, the biggest one is the Annual Green Chemistry Symposium.GCIToronto.jpg

The first iteration of the Green Chemistry Initiative Symposium was in 2013 and it started as a small-scale workshop within Ontario with only four speakers. There were three topics covered: 1) Introduction to green chemistry; 2) Selecting green solvents; and 3) Green chemistry metrics. Since then, our event grew steadily, featuring 10 speakers and a total attendance of 70 students mostly from Ontario in 2019 before the pandemic would momentarily interrupt our symposium for three years. 

A New Start

I joined the University of Toronto in 2020 and decided to take the Symposium Coordinator position at the Green Chemistry Initiative in 2022 as our organization underwent a major team turnover after the pandemic. Having attended the 2022 ACS Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy Summer School, I had big and fresh ideas in mind and was motivated about our upcoming Symposium. My aim was to revamp the event and make the University of Toronto a major North American hub for green and sustainable chemistry discussions.

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I recruited an amazing group of students and together (with the help of our sponsors) we embarked on this mission. Our vision for the 8th Annual Green Chemistry Symposium was to provide attendees with green chemistry resources related to academia, education, and industry and to emphasize the connections between these sectors.

Most especially, we wanted to underline the importance of the education piece and how it can inform and parameterize the development of greener practices. Ultimately, we wanted students to start thinking about green chemistry in a more holistic way, using a systems-thinking approach.

With these goals in mind, we put together a two-day Symposium. Day one focused on academic research and covered the following topics:

  • What is actually green and how to evaluate greenness
  • Green chemistry research in a broad range of specialties (e.g., metabolic engineering, ocean-related chemistry, CO2 management, inorganic chemistry of refrigerants, water treatment systems, etc.)

The second day covered topics in education and the industrial sector including:

  • How to develop a green chemistry undergraduate curriculum
  • How to leverage green chemistry to create change
  • How to build and sustain a global green chemistry education community
  • Resources for green chemistry entrepreneurs
  • A panel on how to bridge academia and industry

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We also decided to make the Symposium more accessible to people that didn’t have the means to travel to Toronto by streaming the whole event through Zoom for the first time. The symposium ended up having 93 in-person attendees (from three Canadian provinces and two U.S. states), 12 online attendees (Canada, United States, Korea, and Chile), and 16 speakers for a combined total of 121 people.

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The event was a complete success. We received positive feedback from many attendees who were amazed to learn that they don’t have to be an expert in green chemistry to employ green chemistry practices in their research or educational duties. I believe that this switch of mentality was sparked particularly from the presentations of Phil Jessop, Andy Dicks, and David Laviska. Their talks really resonated with students. I could feel it just by hearing some of the comments and questions asked by students such as, “I wish I would’ve known this at the beginning of my graduate studies”, and “How come supervisors are not teaching (or required to teach) green chemistry to their students?” The event was truly eye-opening for many students. This is exactly what our group wanted to convey, and we are very proud of having achieved that.

My Vision for a Student-Led North American Green Chemistry Network

 

Picture8.jpgWe (the Green Chemistry Initiative at the U of T) are grateful for all the students that attended our Symposium, and we were happy to see young students wanting to break through the status quo of unsustainable chemistries in both academia and industry. Nonetheless, we also noticed the fact that green chemistry is not commonplace in either undergraduate or graduate curricula. Often, professors think that they need to be experts in green chemistry to teach it and so they decide not to speak about it because they feel uncomfortable teaching something outside their field of expertise. Therefore, students feel lost and unsupported when it comes to implementing green chemistry in the way they do science.

Here is where green chemistry initiatives at the graduate level become important not only because they create awareness on the topic, but also because they can create nurturing environments for young researchers to have conversations about green chemistry and where resources can be shared. The Annual Green Chemistry Symposium is the result of such useful and much-needed efforts to equip environmentally conscious scientists with unique tools and connections to make impactful changes.

My personal vision is to see growth in student-led green chemistry organizations across universities in Canada and the U.S. (and around the world) so we can support each other on the road toward breaking the status quo and normalizing green chemistry practices throughout all chemistry subdisciplines. While we’re working on that, please think about joining us for our next Symposium in 2024!