University of Oregon Launches Online Resource For Green Chemistry

University of Oregon Launches Online Resource For Green Chemistry

University of Oregon green chemistry experts have launched an online treasury of teaching materials they expect will help catalyze rapid adoption of green chemistry worldwide.

GEMs (Greener Education Materials) is a "living database" that corrals and organizes into a single repository, a wealth of resources supporting the teaching of green principles and strategies across chemical disciplines.

"Green chemistry breaks the cycle of pollute and then cleanup by preventing pollution in the first place," said project coordinator Julie Haack, assistant department head and senior instructor of chemistry at the University of Oregon. "By building greening into our teaching, we can engage and motivate a broader spectrum of students."

As it grows, the GEMs Web site will dissolve the main obstacle faced by educators -- difficulty obtaining scarce teaching resources -- by providing ready access to easily adaptable lesson plans, hands-on activities, discussion topics, test questions and other course materials illustrating important principles of green chemistry.

"We are creating a new form of collaborative education that is not limited by traditional boundaries of student audience or sub-discipline," Haack explained. "The tunability of the curriculum is what makes GEMs so exciting for students, teachers, chemists and engineers."

Immediate benefits include a safer laboratory environment that's more conducive to evaluating chemical hazards. In the long run, Haack said, greening the chemistry curriculum and placing it within the context of modern research developments is crucial in order to meet society's need for a workforce versed in sustainable chemical practices.

Funded by nearly a million dollars in research grants from the National Science Foundation and from the University of Oregon's College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the university's Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, access to GEMs is free.

"We don't want any barriers to the adoption of green practices," Haack said. "We are providing a framework for ongoing collaboration with chemistry teachers and industry professionals." She noted that GEMs itself stems from a collaborative partnership between the Green Chemistry Group in the Department of Chemistry and the Center for Educational Technologies at the university.

Initially, the site will contain college- and university-level resources.

"Content geared for high school will be added as it becomes available. Eventually, we aim to provide materials for K-12," she said. "We're looking for people to submit materials."

Students and high school teachers helped with site design and evaluation, along with more than 100 college instructors who attended the national Green Chemistry in Education workshops sponsored by NSF each summer at the University of Oregon.

Haack, whose background includes directing product development in private industry, will continue to manage the GEMs database in addition to advising chemistry majors and teaching general chemistry courses.