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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.

Doxsee said that in one 10-week term, students taking the lab produced about three gallons of hazardous liquid waste, three gallons of contaminated water and two pounds of solid waste.

"We would generate that much waste in a week or two in the old chemistry lab," he said. "We're generating less waste, and it's less hazardous waste."

And because the chemicals are safer to use, it cuts back dramatically on the amount of work that must be done under the noisy and expensive fume hoods that protect students from exposure to toxic vapors. That means the lab can be bigger, quieter and easier to teach, as well as less expensive to run.

Instead of the 15 or so students who could fit into the old organic chemistry lab, the new lab can handle 48. That means instead of having to teach up to 17 lab sections to accommodate all students - which meant having classes at night and on weekends - the new lab accommodates the class in five sections.

And it does it more comfortably. Instead of the windowless basement rooms where the labs used to be taught, the new lab is on the ground floor of Klamath Hall in a room surrounded on three sides by windows.

Hutchinson said that was important because the lab is meant to be a national showcase for the new curriculum. They wanted as many people as possible to see students doing bench-top experiments that used to be done in big exhaust chambers.

"That's critical," he said. "If you're going to use education as a grassroots way to change the way chemists do chemistry, that's the way you have to go."

And Hutchison and Doxsee believe green chemistry not only will change the way the subject is taught, but also the way it's practiced.

With the new approach, students learn that environmental consequences are part of every chemistry equation, and they learn that the best reactions are the ones that do the least harm.

They hope that they will produce chemists who look for new ways to make products that are greener throughout their life-spans, from the time they're made to the time they're thrown away. And they hope it will show the public that chemistry isn't a four-letter word.

"It's really exciting to be part of it," Hutchison said. "It makes you feel good about what chemistry can do to protect the environment and improve the quality of life, and it shows that technological advancement and environmental protection can happen together."


University students Rachel Jacks and Anthony Tran work in the green chemistry lab on a biochemistry assignment.
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Title Annotation:The UO program is a national model for a new way of teaching; Higher Education
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 28, 2002
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