Integrating Green Chemistry in the Curriculum: Building Student Skills in Systems Thinking, Safety, and Sustainability

Katherine B. Aubrecht, Marie Bourgeois, Edward J. Brush, Jennifer Mackellar, Jane E. Wissinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Chemistry educators have a responsibility to teach students about the essential role the field of chemistry has in a sustainable future for the planet. Chemical products, such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, electronics, agrochemicals, and building materials, all benefit society yet unintended consequences resulting from the production and use of these products compel chemists to develop new technologies which minimize their harm. The Committee on Professional Training (CPT)'s recently adopted Supplement on "Green Chemistry in the Curriculum" promotes the inclusion of green chemistry in the undergraduate curriculum. The design of safer technologies is enabled by a systems thinking approach, which analyzes the life cycle of every component of a chemical process. The skills utilized by systems thinking in green chemistry have the potential to foresee and avoid unintended consequences of new chemical products. In this article we illustrate how the inclusion of green chemistry in general and organic chemistry courses connects structure and reactivity to a chemical's impact on the environment and human health. For example, applying green chemistry principles and systems thinking concepts to safety instruction not only teaches students to assess risk for performing a reaction but also extends to sustainability considerations such as feedstocks and waste produced. The study of the life cycle of chemicals connects green metrics and system thinking tools to recognize environmental and societal impacts. Though green chemistry curriculum materials are increasingly available, there is a need for educators to develop and assess systems thinking models for the classroom and laboratory. Overall, students equipped with the knowledge and ability to apply green and sustainable principles and the ability to make connections through systems thinking will be prepared to contribute to solving today's sustainability challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2872-2880
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Volume96
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 10 2019

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Keywords

  • Curriculum
  • First-Year Undergraduate/General
  • Green Chemistry
  • Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary
  • Problem-solving/Decision-making
  • Safety/Hazards
  • Second-Year Undergraduate
  • Sustainability
  • Systems Thinking

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