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The 2013 ACS Summer School : An Unforgettable Experience

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Summer is an especially good time to be a green chemist. June brought us the 17th ACS Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference. And in the last week of July, sixty graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from the United States, Latin America and Canada gathered at the ACS Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy Summer School at the Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO). Tina Norris and Dr. Mary Kirchoff were instrumental in organizing this week-long summer school.

We were welcomed with an opening barbeque in the evening (with delicious food and free Belgian beer!).The next morning, Dr. Ryan Richards kicked off the summer school with an introduction to the summer school program and Colorado School of Mines, its fascinating culture (the M climb), and its surrounding (NREL, NEIC-USGS, the beautiful hiking trails, and of course the Coors brewery). Throughout the week, we had many engaging discussions led by green chemistry practitioners from academia, government research laboratories as well as the industry. Dr. Richards talked about green catalysis using nanostructures and shared his experiences on academic writing (“Zen and the Art of Scientific Writing”). Dr. Bryan Pivovar and Dr. Mark Nimlos from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory discussed the current research on fuel cells and biofuels. And we also got to see Dr. Pivovar’s fuel cell powered car. Neat!

We had fascinating lectures on novel green solvents and quantifying greenness using life cycle assessment (Dr. Tamer Andrea), principles of green chemistry (Dr. Kirchoff),

ionic liquid and ‘greening’ fossil fuels (Dr. Joan Brennecke), green separation techniques (Dr. Kim Williams) and grant writing (Dr. Nancy Jensen, from the ACS Office of Research Grants). Dr. Ken Doxsee, talked about his experiences and the challenges in successfully incorporating green chemistry into academic curricula. Dr. David Constable, the director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, gave an eye-opening talk on depleting resources and the urgent need to incorporate green chemistry at the molecular level in laboratories, pilot-plants and industries. Alan Philips from Arizona Chemicals discussed the current state of the pine chemicals and the how green approaches are practiced in their organization. And who can forget the two crackling talks by Dr. Eric Beckman, where he discussed how a promising idea can be turned into a business, especially entrepreneurship vis-a-vis green products. Absolutely riveting.

The ACS has valuable resources for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Dr. Corrie Kuniyoshi discussed several such resources and how we could avail them. I highly recommend checking out their website and newsletter. (Also, keep an eye the summer school website for updates for next year.)

Besides the lectures, we had a group activity (*cough* homework *cough*) that gave us a taste of life cycle assessment and the challenges in quantifying sustainability. We had poster sessions where we discussed our research, got feedback from students and the instructors and most importantly, got a flavor of the current ‘hot’ topics being researched today. It was easily the most laid back and interactive poster sessions I’ve attended.

But it was not all lectures and homework - we also had soccer, line dancing (which I chickened out of. Sorry Tina!), a guided tour of the Coors brewery and regular trips to downtown Golden (especially the Mountain Toad). On the weekend, the mornings were free and folks went to see the Buffalo Bill Day parade and went hiking. Sunday evening arrived too soon and before we realized, we were at the closing dinner, saying goodbye.

I will cherish this unique learning experience; it was great to meet fellow lovers of green chemistry from different countries. Our stay on campus at Maple Hall couldn't have been more comfortable, and I miss not having to cook and just heading off to the Slate Cafe for food. I came away rejuvenated, with a deeper understanding of how green chemistry principles and approaches need to pervade every sphere, and what tools we have available to address the issues about sustainability. The summer school was, as Dr. Richards would say: “Totally awesome!”

Mary and Tina: Thank you so much for making the summer school experience unforgettable. It was an absolute delight to meet you both and I am thankful for this opportunity to attend the summer school this year. I would also like to thank the folks at the Colorado School of Mines for being such gracious hosts.



(I am a member of the Virginia Tech Sustainable Nanotechnology (VTSuN) group. You can participate in our conversations and stories about sustainability and green nanotechnology on our blog.)

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