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Widener University's New B.S. in Green Chemistry

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By Christiana Briddell, Sr. Communications Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute

A growing number of institutions are incorporating green chemistry into classes and labs, but very few currently offer an undergraduate degree in Green Chemistry. The University of Michigan-Flint launched a Green Chemistry major in 2018. Now Widener University in Chester, PA has become the first institution on the east coast to offer a B.S. in Green Chemistry.

“We really wanted to provide a degree for those students who are particularly interested in diving deeper into sustainability and green chemistry,” says Prof. Loyd Bastin, Associate Dean of Sciences at Widener.

For many years, Prof. Bastin had been embedding green chemistry into the organic chemistry courses he taught. Then in 2014, catalyzed by signing the Green Chemistry Commitment, Widener broadened its efforts, further incorporating green chemistry into its general chemistry labs and a capstone course on synthesis and spectroscopy. The faculty saw that some students really appreciated the focus on sustainability and green chemistry, which spurred the idea to develop a separate green chemistry major.

Market analysis showed that there were plenty of jobs in the green economy and sustainability sector that would be relevant to a B.S. in Green Chemistry. Alumni also encouraged the direction, noting that their introduction to green chemistry at Widener had been useful as they entered graduate school or started a job—often making them the go-to person for green chemistry in their labs. Encouraged by these points of feedback, Prof. Bastin and his colleagues moved the idea forward.

The approach they took maintains the core chemistry curriculum, which is fully accredited with the American Chemical Society, so that the Green Chemistry graduates are as prepared for graduate school as students graduating with the traditional chemistry degree. Beyond this foundational core, Green Chemistry majors are required to take Environmental Chemistry, two Environmental Science and Sustainability courses, and select a green chemistry focus for their senior-level Chemistry Research Experience. These courses introduce students to overarching topics such as global sustainability challenges, life cycle assessment, environmental health, toxicology, and systems approaches.

The senior research projects provide undergraduate research experience in areas such as developing greener pathways to existing pharmaceuticals, greener synthesis of the biobased plastic poly lactic acid (PLA), greener inorganic synthesis, improving the synthesis of metal organic frameworks (MOFs) using microwave synthesis, and using MOFs for CO2 sequestration.

Finally, to fill out the broader themes of sustainability, including environmental policy, environmental racism and social justice, Green Chemistry majors are encouraged to select their humanities and social science classes (required of all students at Widener) from a curated a list of courses relevant to sustainability.

As the program develops, Prof. Bastin and his colleagues will continue to find ways to tie in and revisit key green chemistry concepts in the chemistry curriculum. Right now, for example, he is working on a module as part of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute’s chemistry education module development project that walks organic chemistry students through the use of green chemistry metrics and how to measure the environmental impact of syntheses.

Widener is currently recruiting its students for the Fall 2022 class, and notes they accept transfers. If you are looking for a green chemistry program, check them out! You may be Widener’s first B.S. in Green Chemistry graduate!