Green Chemistry, Sustainability, Rafting, and Friends for Life: ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy

Editor’s Note: This is the review of the 2019 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy, written by our own Director of Marketing and Communications, Juliana Vidal. Juliana is a graduate student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where she is studying the use of a form of stored carbon called biochar as a catalyst and as an advanced material. The applications for this year’s edition of the Summer School are open until January 24th, 2020. 

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Imagine spending seven days in Golden, Colorado, enjoying the warm weather, eating delicious food, watching cute little bunnies around the School of Mines campus, discussing and learning more of something you are passionate about with wonderful and amazing human beings? It seems like a dream, but this is the American Chemical Society (ACS) Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy! In theory, it consists of a one-week program where graduate and postdoctoral students can “explore scientific solutions to global sustainability challenges”. In reality, the ACS Summer School is a life-changing opportunity!

Funded by the ACS, the ACS Petroleum Research Fund, and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, the Summer School is open to students from all over the Americas. So many different people and cultures; a great chance to learn, connect, and grow! The costs of the program, airfare, transportation, meals, and housing, are provided to participants, including the ones who need visas to the United States. As you can imagine by now, the program is really competitive, and therefore, a successful application is needed in order to save your spot in this brilliant workshop. The 2019 program was held in July and applications were accepted until the end of January. The package consists of your curriculum vitae, a graduate-level transcript, a letter of nomination and a one-page essay. For those of you interested in applying in the years to come, my advice is to start gathering your documents early so you can really work and improve your essay as much as you can, never forgetting to be true to yourself. More information about the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy and its application process can be found here.

The wonderful participants of the 2019 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy. Photo credit: Mary Kirchhoff

The wonderful participants of the 2019 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy.
Photo credit: Mary Kirchhoff

When I received the great news that I got accepted, I was so excited, and at the same time, so concerned with my incredible ability of getting lost everywhere! However, it was practically impossible not knowing where you were or needed to go under the care of Mary Kirchhoff and Stephanie Wahl (remember these names!) The organization of the program is amazingly incredible, and the lectures were super diverse and engaging. For example, Dr. Mary Kirchhoff introduced us to Green Chemistry and discussed its principles, and Dr. David Constable, from the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, gave us practical tools to make our own research greener. Dr. Philip Jessop, from Queen’s University, put everybody’s brains to work in full speed during a simplified life-cycle analysis (LCA) exercise. I highlighted the word “simplified” because all I could think during our calculations was: “Imagine the non-simplified LCA, imagine the non-simplified LCA…” Dr. Jim Hutchison, from the University of Oregon, helped us to open our minds and consider all the elements when tackling a problem in the “Systems Thinking in Chemistry” workshop, which it was something totally new for me. Besides having the chance of getting a quick ride/pretending it was ours/checking all the buttons inside a cell fuel car, we also had some professional development lectures in which we learned about ACS resources for young chemists, and also got tips on how to write successful proposals.

Having the most amazing time before water rafting! Photo credit: Clear Creek Rafting Company

Having the most amazing time before water rafting!
Photo credit: Clear Creek Rafting Company

To me, one of the best things about the Summer School was the opportunity of meeting, living together, learning, and being inspired by the amazing participants of this workshop. We soon became a huge family, and we made sure to enjoy our time together during and after the lectures, even if that meant going on beautiful hikes in the rain, eating lots of ice cream and muffins, getting bitten by crazy mosquitoes, water rafting (singing, and screaming at the same time), or spending two nights trying to understand how to use a modern jukebox. During the poster sessions, we could learn about each other’s research, connect, and discuss new ideas to improve our projects and to help our planet!

ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy poster presentation! Photo credit: Mariana Silva

ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy poster presentation!
Photo credit: Mariana Silva

The ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy made us realize (more than ever) that defining greenness or being green is complex and tricky. The whole system needs to be considered and compared with others to assess these definitions. Our goal of turning the world into a better place using science is nothing but difficult, and among all of the policies, tragedies, environmental disasters, and lies that we witness every day, we can eventually feel hopeless. However, we have to keep the optimism, and remember that some wonderful scientists are going against the flow, incessantly researching ways of achieving sustainability and solving our environmental problems. After the Summer School, I realized how important it is to create and maintain a connection with all of these scientists so we can increase our impact on our society, have new ideas, create new opportunities, change our old perspectives… This is what NESSE is all about!

To the organizers, funding agencies, Mary, Stephanie, my supervisor Fran for supporting my application, and every participant of the 2019 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy, a big and sincere THANK YOU. You changed my life and the least I could do, together with these amazing scientists, is to try to ensure a sustainable, long, and green future for the next generations!

Thank you very much for reading and until next time,

Juliana

“Oh don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me, I said you’re holding back, she said shut up and dance with me”. Walk The Moon – Shut Up and Dance With Me, Officially the Unofficial Song of the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy 2019.

NESSE grew out of members wanting to keep the summer school alive remotely all year long. Join this movement and click here to become a NESSE member!