The George Washington University’s Master of Science in Environmental and Green Chemistry

Editor’s note: Dr. Jakub Kostal from The George Washington University gave us a behind the scenes look into the George Washington University’s Master of Science in Environmen­tal and Green Chemistry program.


The George Washington University is a research-intensive university that actively engages Washington, D.C., and the world. Its location in the heart of Washington places GWU at the core of U.S. government, policy and law; GWU sits where the worlds of science, technology, media and the arts converge. To this end, GWU students and faculty have the unparalleled opportunity to study and work alongside leaders and practitioners in every discipline, to take part in the interchanges that shape our community and the wscienceorld.

The George Washington University’s Master of Science in Environmen­tal and Green Chemistry trains the next generation of experts with an interdisciplinary curriculum that fosters proficiency in evaluating the environment and in designing new chemicals and chemical processes with minimal environmental impact. This unique 30-credit hour program offers five core courses on Energy and the Environment; Environmental Chemistry of Air, Water and Soil; Green Industrial Chemistry; Chemical Toxicology and Rational Design of Safer Chemicals; and Environmental Analytical Chemistry. The program concludes with a capstone project, a real-world group-based exercise that students carry out with one of our partnering institutions in the government or private sector.

reIn addition to combining elements from five core focus areas, the program leverages public health, science policy and business course­work to provide a broader perspec­tive and strengthen students’ communication and interpersonal skills. Students are encouraged to select elective courses that are rele­vant to their educational goals.

The program’s intended learning outcomes are for students to attain a level of technical ability and knowledge in the fields of environmental/green chemistry and related social sciences to function as professionals in their discipline; gain experience in carrying out research using technical and problem-solving skills to contribute to their field in the form of a capstone project; gain communication and presentation skills that are consistent with professional standards; be well-positioned to obtain employment or continue education towards a doctoral degree in chemistry, sustainability or related fields.

The George Washington University’s Master of Science in Environmen­tal and Green Chemistry is a perfect fit for any aspiring green scientist; not only it offers a rigorous interdisciplinary program, including a unique course on designing safer chemicals, but it also provides unparalleled opportunities for employment in Washington, D.C.


Green Universities: Newcastle University

Editor’s note: While some universities have yet to address the science of sustainability, others have excellent initiatives aimed at promoting green research. Newcastle University’s Insitute for Sustainability is one such initiative, and their recent internal funding call is a prime example of a concrete way universities can foster interdisciplinary sustainability research for early-career researchers. The Institute for Sustainability’s Research Coordinator, Dr. Shona Smith, took us behind the scenes of the Institute’s ongoing efforts to support early-career researchers.

Newcastle University's Institute for Sustainability

Newcastle University (NU) is a research-intensive civic university which aims to use research to recognise and respond to the needs of local society and global issues. The university’s interaction with civil society is focused around three societal challenge themes: ageing, social renewal, and sustainability. The Institute for Sustainability was set up to facilitate interdisciplinary research to tackle three global research challenges: Integrated Infrastructure Systems, Production and Resources, and Consumption and Waste. These research challenges are underpinned by the concept of ‘Justice and Governance’ which cuts across all sectors and policy areas and is at the heart of society’s pursuit of sustainability.

The Institute for Sustainability core team is made up of 11 people with 5 of us working as Research Coordinators (RCs), a unique job which bridges traditional university research and research support roles. As RCs, we work together to increase funding, profile, and impact for sustainability researchers across all schools, faculties, and disciplines at NU. We also work with the Institute Director, Phil Taylor, and Associate Directors to shape and implement the objectives of the Institute. The RC team have PhDs in a range of sustainability-related research areas including electrical engineering, microbiology, and atmospheric chemistry. Since we have recently worked as postdoctoral researchers and are well aware of the highs and lows of academic research, we can empathise with the researchers we work with.

From PhD to PI

In February 2014, the Institute launched the first of its funding calls open to NU academics and researchers working in the sustainability remit. These funding calls aim to nurture and promote high quality, interdisciplinary research which contributes to the Institute’s three global research challenges. When our Director asked us to think about a focus for our next directed call we developed a call specifically for Early Career Researchers (ECRs). We knew from our own experiences that there were very few opportunities available to ECRs on fixed term contracts to apply for funding as Principal Investigator (PI), and we wanted to give NU researchers an opportunity to apply for funding to develop and lead a project, and work towards independent research careers.

We did a bit of scoping with research support colleagues and our Research Forum members and after some toing and froing we came up with the scope for our ‘Research Challenges call focused on Early Career Researchers’. In this call we offered to cover the salary of fixed term ECRs for up to 4 months and up to £3000 for consumables / travel. The idea of the call was to support ECRs to: gather proof-of-concept data required for a fellowship application, add value to the ECRs career development by allowing them to gain new skills, and build their research profile and track-record.

We launched the call at the end of September 2014. In October the RCs hosted a workshop to introduce the call, and to give people tips on the application procedure and an opportunity to ask us questions. We also invited Jennie Dodson, chair of NESSE, to help us facilitate a discussion about setting up a network for Early Career Sustainability Researchers at NU (more about this later).

Newcastle Early Career Researcher Focused Call

The call closed on 24th November 2014, and proved to be our most popular to date. It was a tough assessment process but in the end the panel consisting of Director, Associate Directors and the RC team, decided to award funding to four standout ECRs. You can read about their projects here. It doesn’t end there, though.

Early career researcher network

Our Research Challenges funding call was the launch of a long-term focused effort to support NU early-career sustainability researchers. With Jennie’s help we facilitated a discussion with the ECRs who came to our workshop in October, which inspired a group of ECRs from a variety of schools and disciplines to set up their own early career research network—the Newcastle Sustainability Early Career Researcher Network (NewSECRT). We’ve also got a call open at the moment for the Enviresearch Foundation Travel Award Scheme 2015, which offers to fund travel costs and laboratory consumables for Newcastle University ECRs and PhD students to visit research groups in Europe for a scientific project or fieldwork. Recently we ran a very well-received workshop to provide advice from experienced researchers about applying to the EPSRC and an opportunity to have one-to-one sessions to discuss research ideas.

There are other things going on, too, and we’re always listening to our researchers and developing new ideas to support them. One of the most effective ways we do this is by bringing together groups of researchers across social and technical discipline boundaries to react to some of the major challenges of our time (wicked and super-wicked problems) with people outside the university.

We believe that our first-hand knowledge and understanding of the process of research and the ways in which being a researcher can be exciting, exhilarating, all consuming, and at times transient and frightening has helped us to drive and shape the Institute for Sustainability ECR focussed initiatives.

Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability Research Coordinator Team 

(Shona Smith, Amy Brown, Lynsay Blake, Guy Hutchinson, Jen Hazelton)

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Green Universities: University of Toronto

contributed by Laura Hoch

Members of the University of Toronto’s Green Chemistry Initiative

I am extremely excited that I was asked to write a blog post about green chemistry and sustainability at the University of Toronto, where I am currently a PhD student in Materials Chemistry and Co-Chair of the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI). I am continually impressed by U of T’s environmental leadership and dedication to fostering a thriving sustainable community of students, faculty, and staff. Connected through the Sustainability Office as well as the U of T Environmental Resource Network (UTERN), over 60 environmentally focused student groups work together to continually improve the mindset and environmental footprint of the university. U of T currently has one of the highest institutional waste diversion rates in North America (72.1 % of all waste gets recycled, composted, or repurposed). We produce more than 25 % of our electricity on campus (enough to power 730 Ontario homes), and solar thermal hot water heaters provide the hot water for the showers in the athletic centers. U of T is also the leading public sector purchaser of local sustainable food in North America and there are community garden spaces all over campus, where much of the food grown is used directly in U of T restaurants and eateries.

Poster session at U of T GCI’s “Next Steps in Green Chemistry” workshop held in May 2014

Because of this general culture of sustainability, students are encouraged to take the initiative to dig deeper and address sustainability issues from many different angles. As a result, there are numerous student groups at U of T focused on improving sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of their respective disciplines. As a chemist, I wanted to learn more about how I could incorporate sustainability into my research; after talking with my fellow graduate students, I realized I was not alone. So in 2012, we started a student group within the Department of Chemistry called the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), with the goal of teaching each other and our fellow students about green chemistry in order to promote sustainable practices within our chemistry community. With 11 founding members, we began by creating a Green Chemistry Seminar Series, which allowed us to bring in leaders from many diverse backgrounds to share insight on the different ways green chemistry can be applied. We also launched a department-wide Green Chemistry Trivia challenge where we pose weekly thought-provoking questions related to green chemistry and provide practical answers that are linked to green chemistry resources.  This allows us to provide “bite-sized” information to the department on a regular basis so that green chemistry is always on people’s minds. I’ve had several people tell me that they now do something differently in the lab because of one of our questions. We also created a website to not only provide updates on our ongoing projects, but also to include a repository of helpful information from both the scientific literature and various web-based resources. We have to date hosted two annual workshops designed by and for graduate students (though all levels of researchers are welcome), focusing on practical, direct applications of green chemistry in research. Last year’s workshop, entitled “The Next Steps in Green Chemistry,” had more than 70 participants from across North America and a dozen speakers from academic institutions, large industrial companies, and governmental agencies.


Members of the U of T GCI film an educational green chemistry video

The GCI has now grown to 24 members and we continue to work together to run various initiatives and educational outreach events. This year, we have launched a Waste Awareness Campaign, collecting and presenting data on chemical waste production within the department, with the ultimate goal of replacing the more hazardous classes of waste with more benign alternatives.  We also have started a Green Education Subcommittee and work closely with the teaching faculty to increase and enhance the green chemistry content within the undergraduate curriculum. We have received tremendous support from our department, and we feel that we are starting to build a good conversation among the students and faculty about green chemistry.

My experiences with the GCI have not only taught me about green chemistry, but I have also learned how to reach out and engage with people about sustainability. I think many people often feel that if something isn’t perfectly “green” from the beginning, it’s not worth trying to improve and so they stop listening to suggestions. However, I have learned that by showing people that any improvement at all is still an improvement, they become much more receptive to our messages. We always try to point out what someone is already doing right, which gives them something tangible to build and improve upon.

UofT_LogoUltimately, what I have learned from interacting with and observing the many sustainability initiatives at U of T is that so much can be accomplished by working together, doing what you can, and always trying to improve a little bit at a time.