undergraduate research program integrates green chemistry and science policy | Today

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By Kristen Mitchell

Undergraduate students from across the country had the opportunity to learn at George Washington University this summer, exploring the integration of green chemistry and science policy alongside faculty from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Department of Chemistry.

The department received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch a 10-week program Research Experiences Program for Undergraduates (REU), which supports active participation in scientific research by undergraduate students. The 12 undergraduate participants in GW’s 2022 program explored the union of policy and green chemistry, the design of chemicals and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or development of hazardous substances, through independent research, workshops and more.

“The intersection of science and technology with politics is a very critical and rich space, but the average science student is not exposed to it until late in their career, and must make a conscious effort to get there. “, said Christopher Cahill, Professor of Chemistry and International Affairs and Chair of the Department of Chemistry. “What we’re trying to do is cultivate earlier awareness and enlighten people to keep abreast of political developments and see how politics can impact their scientific pursuits. “

REU programs focus on developing the next generation of graduate students and upper-division scientists, and aim to expose students to expertise and tailored learning opportunities that may not be available in their establishments of origin, said Stephen Boyes, associate professor of chemistry and director of GW’s REU program. GW received funding to support its REU program for three years. Over 215 students applied to join the first cohort this summer.

“One of the goals we have for them is to give them that kind of experience so they can make decisions about their future careers and what they might do, and improve their understanding of science as a whole. “, Boyes said. “Often students are siloed in their coursework and take a particular course each semester without seeing the larger impact or the larger picture. We try to introduce them to a more holistic view of science.

Twelve undergraduate students from across the country participated in this year’s 10-week program. (Kate Woods/GW Today)


The department’s strengths in green chemistry and GW’s proximity to government and industry leaders make it a “dynamite point” to develop this REU, Cahill said. Students were able to attend the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Conference in Reston, Virginia. They also got to hear and interact with experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and learn how to communicate effectively on complex science topics from Frank Sesno, director of strategic initiatives at the GW School of Media and Public Affairs.

GW also received additional funding from the NSF through a Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) award to support the research experiences of two high school teachers from public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland. Teachers not only participated in research projects, but also helped run a workshop at GW on the importance of K-12 STEM education and worked with undergraduate participants to develop skills. experiments focused on green chemistry and sustainability to take back to their classrooms.

The National Academies published a report in July on the the importance of chemical research to the US economy. The Consensus Study Group was chaired by GW President Mark S. Wrighton, with members drawn from other educational institutions as well as industry. The report presents a roadmap for the future of chemistry research, training and investment, and explores the importance of sustainability and green chemistry.

The program culminated in a research symposium held at Science and Engineering Hall, where students presented posters showcasing the research they explored during their time at GW. Topics ranged from the recyclability of plastics and the development of new polymer membranes for water desalination, to computational analysis of the impact of different chemicals on the environment, and new technologies for monitoring greenhouse gases. Greenhouse.

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