ACS Green Chemistry Conference, 2013

VTSuN member and green chemistry addict coffeemug got to attend the 17th ACS Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference at Maryland, thanks to a generous travel scholarship awarded by the National Science Foundation – I am truly grateful.


The day before the conference, I got to attend the student workshop led by Dr. David Constable (Director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute). It was a really good, informative – and intense – workshop, where we were challenged to think about issues pertaining to sustainability in new ways. We discussed not just academic concepts of green chemistry and some of its “forgotten principles”, but also how these principles can be applied to industrial processes. To the students out there interested in green chemistry, I highly recommend attending this workshop.

As part of the student workshop, the ACS Green Chemistry Institute in collaboration with Beyond Benign, organized an outreach event where we got to interact with elementary and middle school kids. The kids made green glue using condensed milk, warm water, baking soda, vinegar, some ideas of green chemistry and a little help from us. And I got to make green glue with the coolest 3rd grader – Emma.

(Left) Emma with our collage that says “Green Chemistry is Awesome!” (Right) The kids teaching the adults about some cool, impromptu green chemistry.

To test how awesome our glue was, Emma and I made a collage on the spot – we call that instant onsite product testing. (Actually, Emma did most of the work, as I watched in awe). Check out this video from Beyond Benign’s outreach efforts from 2010:

The three-day conference featured notable speakers from the academia and and leaders from the industry, including BASF and Dupont. The talks covered a wide range of green chemistry and engineering topics as well as environmental issues – biofuels, life cycle assessment, alternative assessments, endocrine disruption, fracking and green chemistry education, to name a few. Was there a talk on sustainable nano, you ask? You bet there was! Dr. James Hutchison, who co-authored the book on incorporating green chemistry into the lab, gave a (mind-blowing) keynote presentation titled, “Greener Nanoscience: Advancing Sustainable Solutions Through Molecular-Level Design”. What’s more – Dr. Hutchison was kind enough to discuss with me at length about a particularly knotty, gnarly  research problem I am currently grappling with. (Thank you.)

Dr. Al Matlack asking a question after Dr. Hutchison’s keynote presentation

I also got to attend a career workshop organized by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, led by Dr. David Harwell. Dr. Harwell led a lively and engaging session, where we grappled with some nuts-and-bolts issues about job-search and career options in chemistry. Also, at this workshop, I won a raffle (woohoo!) and am now the proud owner of the 2nd edition of “Introduction to Green Chemistry” by Dr. Al Matlack. The icing on the cake – Dr. Matlack himself was in the room and signed my book with the message: Help  us achieve a sustainable future. (Thank you.)

The conference was a blur of exciting talks and engaging discussions. As I look back, two warm memories stand out:

1. At the end of the workshop, a student asked Dr. Constable –

If there was one thing you could change in the world, what would it be?

We were expecting a green chemistry-laden reply. Dr. Constable’s answer (I am paraphrasing) –

There is a lack of humility all around us, we sometimes forget how little we know… too sure of how we think the world works, and, as a result become close-minded, especially when faced with a new idea that challenges our earlier understanding. If I could, I would ask that we be more humble.


2. At the end of the glue making, as I was leaving, I asked Emma, “So, the next time you run out of glue, you can simply stir some up in the kitchen, right?”

“But Mommy and Daddy won’t let me”, said Emma.

“Well, at least we had fun with chemistry, right?”

Emma nodded emphatically.

“So you think you would want to be a chemist?”

Another emphatic nod.

“Come on, now. That’s not easy – how will you do it?”, I said.

And Emma shut me up with the following line delivered with a steely Clint Eastwood-y look, “I will study everything…”


To Emma:

Hey there, Emma, it was great meeting you! Hope you had fun – I certainly did. Thanks for making my day. And have fun with Chemistry. 🙂 And Emma’s Mommy and Daddy: Please let Emma stir up some green glue in the kitchen every now and then, won’t you? 🙂





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