Contributed by Dr. Marty Mulvihill, Executive Director, Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry
We teach many courses focused on technical knowledge and a few that talk about its application; yet there is so much that one cannot truly learn until having to do it in earnest.
The Greener Solutions program at UC Berkeley gives students a chance to apply their technical skills in earnest, by partnering them with businesses interested in adopting safer and more sustainable materials and processes.
This past year, two interdisciplinary teams of students worked with Levi Strauss &Co. and the Biomimicry Institute to identify and evaluate potential biomimetic approaches to fabric finishing (See Wikipedia article on permanent press) that would eliminate the use of formaldehyde and diisocyanates. The research teams included students from chemistry, engineering, public health, and design. Working together, they identified solutions including new fiber coatings, to enzymatic processes, and multi-material weaves.
Every year we pick a new challenge and new partner organizations. This fall, we will be examining preservative and anti-microbial chemistry used in consumer products. We will be working with Seventh Generation and Beautycounter to help select and design effective preservatives that do not cause unnecessary harm to human health or the environment.
We encourage students to identify a broad range of solutions and then to develop evaluation tools to assess potential costs and benefits of each. They present the top design solutions to the partner organization and explain what needs to be done to bring these solutions to market. The results from previous Greener Solutions projects are available online at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry website.
The Greener Solutions program uses a process-oriented approach to teaching that helps graduate student develop practical communication and consulting skills that are not often part of graduate programs in the sciences. In the words of one student, “Most courses teach facts that I then easily forget. This course taught me skills, the ‘how-to’ of performing research and communicating findings to non-academics.”