Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Faith + Science = Saving Resources

Gordon College recently marked the opening of its new Ken Olsen Science Center with a weeklong celebration culminating in the official opening day on Saturday, September 27. Featured were special guest speaker Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, as well as a series of related arts and academic events.
In preparation for this opening celebration, Gordon departments challenged themselves to be as “green” as possible as they promoted the event. Events of this size typically generate a great deal of paper in the form of invitations, banners, posters, programs and brochures—most of which end up in landfills. “Gordon has an ethos of environmental stewardship,” said Cyndi McMahon, associate director of College Communications. “The Ken Olsen Science Center Dedication was a natural opportunity to highlight our commitment to sustainable communications.”
The end results were both creative and green: plantable table centerpieces, organic cotton staff T-shirts and recycled-paper napkins. Most would-be paper products were replaced with LCD screens around the Science Center. What little paper was used had a special significance: invitations and programs for the event were printed using soy ink on small pieces of seeded paper. The paper had a double use: guests followed the events for the day and returned home with their programs, and if planted, the paper will yield flowers similar to those outside the Science Center.
The biodiesel soap project, a collaboration involving Gordon organic chemistry students, chemistry faculty member Irv Levy and Leo Cleary of Gordon’s Physical Plant staff, is another of Gordon’s “green” projects. Cleary built a biodiesel processor that recycles cooking oil into two substances: biodiesel fuel and a remaining sediment that is so pure and clean, soap can be made from it. Students volunteered over the summer to help manufacture 500 bars of soap, which were distributed during the event.

“Our students worked on the design goal of maximizing the amount of biodiesel glycerin while maintaining the firm, dry quality that we normally expect from a bar of soap,” commented Levy. “After many trials we settled on a formulation that contains 20 percent biodiesel glycerin byproduct. This might not sound like much, but the “glycerin soap” sometimes sold in stores usually has only about 15 percent glycerin in it, so ours is actually quite high in glycerin content.”
Levy hopes to outline the process and offer instructions on the Gordon website so others can prepare our soap for their own use or as a green chemistry educational experience for students.
Guests left with seeded paper, biodiesel soap, and a greater knowledge of what happens when faith and science come together.

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