WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An infinitely adaptable online treasury of teaching materials created by the University of Oregon is expected to help catalyze rapid adoption of green chemistry worldwide.
The university's green chemistry experts have created GEMs (Greener Education Materials), a "living database" that for the first time corrals and organizes into a single repository a wealth of resources supporting the teaching of green principles and strategies across chemical disciplines.
The new website will be unveiled on Tuesday, June 21, by project coordinator Julie Haack during meetings sponsored by the American Chemical Society in Washington.
"Green chemistry breaks the cycle of pollute and then clean-up by preventing pollution in the first place," said 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 website (http://greenchem.uoregon.edu/gems.html) 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 a nearly a million dollars in research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) 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 highly 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.
Chemistry professors Jim Hutchison and Ken Doxsee, who established the nation's first green chemistry teaching laboratories at the University of Oregon in 1998, consulted on the project. Leaders in the movement to apply green chemistry principles to nanoscience and manufacturing, they co-authored the first green chemistry textbook, "Green Organic Chemistry: Strategies, Tools and Laboratory Experiments" (Brooks/Cole 2004).
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. She is the lead author of "Going Green: Lecture Assignments and Lab Experiences for the College Curriculum," an article to be published in July's issue of the Journal of Chemical Education.
A graduate of Clackamas High School near Portland, Ore., Haack earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Oregon in 1986. She holds a doctorate in biology from the University of Utah. She did postdoctoral training in pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in biophysics at the University of Oregon, where she was a Howard Hughes Research Fellow.
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