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Introduction to Green Chemistry

Lesson One: The Essentials of Green Chemistry


The Earth The interactions of atoms and molecules make the world we know and everything in it possible. We call these interactions chemistry. Without them, there would be no life, no geology, no skyscrapers or automobiles, no industry, weather, food or water. The simplest human behavior would be impossible; thought and emotion would be out of the question. This is how pervasive and woven into our lives chemistry is, and why it is so important.

But since the inception of the modern era of industrial chemistry some 150 years ago, the synthetic chemistry we have been practicing, while often exciting, elegant and profitable, has also sometimes undermined the places we live in, exhausted the resources we depend upon, and harmed the bodies we rely on. In the face of these uncomfortable facts, it has become clear that we need to change the way we practice chemistry if we hope to live more sustainably.

Lesson One of this course consists of four modules which together outline:

  • The urgency of sustainability.
  • The importance of ethics in chemical education.
  • The three interrelated grand challenges the field of chemistry must overcome if it hopes to contribute to a more sustainable civilization.
  • Some steps we can take to shape a more sustainable future.
  • The definition of the field of green chemistry, and a look at its evolution since its founding.
  • How we can begin to define the problems we face, prioritize them and tackle them.

Lesson Objective

When you have completed Lesson One's modules, you will have a different perspective on the field of green chemistry, its purpose, approach, goals and intellectual framework—a foundation you can build upon as you explore the rest of the course.

Lesson Key Points

  • The synthetic chemistry we have been practicing has often led to harm to human health and our environment.
  • We need to change the way we practice chemistry in order to live sustainably.
  • Ethics must become a fundamental part of chemists' educations.
  • Green chemistry can guide chemists in the design of products that are safe as well as effective.
  • Green chemistry is part of a multidisciplinary approach to the development of a sustainable society.