The Green Chemistry Commitment is a 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalist!

October 23, 2013

Rich Gurney in Chemistry Lab

Simmons College is one of the co-developers and original signatories of The Green Chemistry Commitment, which has been named one of five 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalists.

The Green Chemistry Commitment is an initiative to transform chemistry education, led in part by Associate Professor and Department Chair Rich Gurney, who is on the Advisory Board.

"Being named a finalist is already a major achievement in the recognition and validation of the importance of our work to champion Green Chemistry and revolutionize chemistry education," said Gurney. "A fundamental redesign of chemistry education must occur such that chemists learn the principles of green chemistry throughout their academic career."

As a Postdoctoral Fellow teaching a 300-level course in green chemistry at Northwestern University, Rich Gurney discovered that his students didn't just want to learn about green chemistry - they wanted to practice it. As Associate Professor at Simmons, Gurney immediately began integrating greener labs into his organic chemistry course. Encouraged by the student response, Gurney changed the entire chemistry curriculum, making it more benign for both humans and the environment and involving students in the research process. What began as a two week lab experience in a single course blossomed into four entire courses. Simmons now requires a capstone research experience with a thesis that addresses green chemistry for all Seniors.

"Rather than simply follow a recipe to prepare a target molecule as is traditionally taught at most institutions, students at Simmons actively work to "green" a procedure by changing experimental variables to determine if high yields of pure targets can still be realized with greener improvements," said Gurney. "In the last year, students in Organic Chemistry I and II discovered that we were able to perform the synthesis of a molecule using microwave heating in one hour as opposed to a conventional heating method in four hours. Minimizing time and energy for a given process is covered in Green Chemistry Principle number six."

Three of the Greener Labs developed by Simmons students were showcased at Green Chemistry in Higher Education: A Region 2 Faculty Workshop at Sienna College, funded in part by the EPA and developed by Irv Levy (Gordon College), Amy Cannon (Beyond Benign Foundation), John Warner (Warner Babcock Institute) and Rich Gurney.

Next for The Green Chemistry Commitment is to continue to build the community and welcome new members. "Our long term goal is to put ourselves out of a job, as we hope one day that all chemistry is ‘designed to be benign for human health and the environment,'" said Gurney.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute awards $100,000 annually to support the implementation of a solution to one of humanity's most pressing problems. The Challenge winner will be announced in a ceremony on November 18.