Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A New Generation of Creative Scientists

Faculty member lrv Levy often attributes the origin of green chemistry at Gordon to one of his former students. Long now graduated, Laura Hamel '05 Ouillette challenged him to think of green chemistry not just as a slogan but rather as an approach to solve important problems. Thereafter his courses and teaching have never been the same.

Today Levy is one of 1,000 delegates from around the world celebrating the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launch of the International Year of Chemistry. His perspective on the teaching of green chemistry was supported by the global dialogue last week where CEOs from forward-thinking companies, Nobel laureates, even the granddaughter of Madame Marie Curie (the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry back in 1911), gathered in Paris, France.

"In this century chemists will be called upon to engage some of the most pressing problems that affect the world--supply of clean water, production of healthy food, sustainable energy, and improvements in health care," said Levy.

Gordon's program is considered one of the forward-thinking programs in the country when it comes to teaching green chemistry. "We teach our students more than how to balance a chemical equation, how to predict the product of a chemical reaction, or details like ions, protons, neutrons and electrons," said Levy. "We add to that a real consideration of the impact of our chemistry on human health and the environment." Ask any science major walking the halls of the Ken Olsen Science Center about their developing ethos on green practices in the sciences, and you'll find a generation of young people using green approaches to solve problems in their labs.

"We consider the waste we produce, both in quantity and quality. Our goal is zero," said Levy. "We consider the use of renewable resources and ways to monitor the course of our reactions as they occur." The historic student research paper now hangs prominently in the halls of the Chemistry Department as a reminder to students and faculty to think beyond what we know in front of us. The International Year of Chemistry brings new opportunities to our campus. Gordon College students doing outreach in the community will be partnering with UNESCO on a global chemistry experiment that will work with millions of children on a fundamental topic: water. "The data will be pooled for analysis and comparison from locations around the world," said Levy. "We'll continue to send our students into the community to work with high school programs, museums and other venues to teach people about the principles of green chemistry." Though Gordon students regularly participate in teaching the principles of green chemistry at public events, the UNESCO experiment allows our program to provide valuable contributions on a local level while also supplying data on a global scale.

Photo: Irv Levy during his last conference call with NPR.

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