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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB gets One-of-a-Kind Green Chemistry Program

Dr. John Warner, a UMass Boston alumnus and famous chemist, has returned after 20 years to establish a Green Chemistry program as an Environmental Sciences Graduate Degree, the first of its kind in the world.

On December 3 UMB students and faculty attended a presentation by world-renowned scientist John Warner, discussing the theory and application of “Green Chemistry.”

Warner will be teaching a course in Environmental Concerns and Chemical Solutions, an undergraduate seminar (CHEM L111), and also graduate-level courses in Experimental Conceptualization and Chemical Toxicity.

By practicing science responsibly, innovating techniques that avoid toxic elements and use minimal energy, Warner advocates a chemistry that is constructive and doesn’t hurt people.

This new and promising brand of chemistry is defined as “the utilization of a set of principles that reduce the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemical products.”

The only one in his family to attend university, Dr. Warner described how he stumbled onto chemistry and developed a passion for it. Warner got his doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry at Princeton. He went on to do exploratory research for Polaroid for 8 years.

But after the death of his one-year-old son, he realized that all his years studying chemistry had never involved analysis into the toxicity of the chemicals he used. It just so happens that “no grad program in the U.S. requires that one has knowledge of toxicity or environmental impact of chemicals.”

In 1998, he coauthored a book called Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice with an old friend and fellow chemist, Paul Anastas, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. The book outlined 12 principles on which this philosophy is based.

Green Chemistry is the only field that emphasizes pollution prevention at the earliest stages of the design process. Dr. Warner described it as “pollution prevention at the molecular level” but sees it as an interdisciplinary philosophy that is applicable to any science or art.

Over the past two decades the level of regulation on industry has risen sharply and by all indications will continue to grow. Corporations can no longer ignore the external costs their industries incur. In 1996 Dupont Inc. spent $1 billion on research and another $1 billion on keeping up with government regulations. Industry has realized that having scientists that understand toxicity and the environmental hazards of their products can help prevent these costs at the planning stage.

Warner explained, “Green Chemistry teaches that it is better to not generate waste in the first place, than considering how to dispose of it later. When hazardous materials are cut from processes, all hazard-related costs are cut as well, reducing handling costs, transportation, disposal and regulatory compliance concerns.” He went on to note that “Unfortunately there is still a significant shortage of green alternatives; [however] there is tremendous untapped opportunity for ingenuity and reward.”

Warner places a great deal of emphasis on building awareness among the community. His students will take hands-on experiments that illustrate the practice of Green Chemistry to high schools and attend community events such as the Jamaica Plain “Wake up the Earth” festival every year, to offer children and adults interesting alternatives to wasteful scientific practices.