Earth-Friendly Chemistry Class

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), May 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Earth-Friendly Chemistry Class


Byline: GREG BOLT The Register-Guard

IT WASN'T EASY turning green.

But a nearly $1 million investment has created a new chemistry laboratory at the University of Oregon that is perhaps the greenest in the country and a showcase for a new way of teaching chemistry. It's one of just several firsts in the field of green chemistry being credited to UO professors Jim Hutchison and Ken Doxsee.

Green chemistry is a new way of teaching the basics of organic chemistry that's much more sensitive to the effects of hazardous chemicals on the environment. Students learn everything taught in standard chemistry labs, but they learn it with a greater emphasis on environment and using materials much less dangerous than those used in traditional classes.

Ultimately, it could help change the way chemistry is practiced and speed the development of earth-friendly manufacturing processes.

This was the first year that all undergraduate organic chemistry labs were taught using the green chemistry curriculum, and the UO is the first university in the country to do that. The new lab also is the first to be designed and built to fit the new green chemistry program, and in a few months Hutchison and Doxsee will finish work on what will be the first green chemistry textbook.

All those firsts have drawn national attention. The American Chemical Society sees the UO program as the national leader in the field, and Dennis Hjeresen, director of the society's Green Chemistry Institute, was on hand recently for the lab's ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

"This is a program that they think is the model for other chemistry departments around the country and around the world," Hutchison said. "It really is catching on."

The new lab is the end product of four years of work by Doxsee and Hutchison to develop a green chemistry curriculum from scratch, try it out with small groups of students and finally expand it to the first two terms of the upper-division organic chemistry lab sequence. About 200 students per term take the lab.

Financing for the lab came through a $300,000 grant from the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust, a $100,000 grant from the Green Chemistry Institute and about $500,000 from private donors and university funds. Included in the project is the adjoining Alice C. Tyler Instrumentation Center, which offers a full complement of chemistry instruments needed for green chemistry and other classes.

One benefit of the new curriculum is that there's less hazardous material left over. Hutchison and Doxsee said they're still monitoring the labs to see how much less, but the early indications are en- couraging. …

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