Faculty Profile – Margaret Kerr
Chemistry Margaret Kerr, Ph.D., is an expert in curriculum development and
implementation of green chemistry, which reduces the use or generation of
hazardous substances during chemical processes. She has promoted green chemistry
at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand and brought educators from that
country to visit WSU. She has received a Fulbright Scholar grant to support
university green chemistry curriculum development, K-12 outreach, and the
creation and expansion of green chemistry networks in Southeast Asia.
did you grow up?
I was born in California and my family moved to
Wyoming when I was 5. I graduated from high school there.
What led you to study chemistry?
I took a class in college that I enjoyed. I didn’t
take chemistry in high school, believe it or not, so I didn’t know much about it
when I took it randomly in college. I liked the logic of it and the ability to
make cool molecules.
What led you to study “green,” or more
environmentally friendly, chemistry and introduce it at Worcester State?
I was put in charge of the organic lab after one of
my colleagues retired and I wanted to make some changes to make the lab
experience safer for students and more applicable to real-life situations that
students will encounter when they reach the professional realm. I am of the
belief that all of our students, regardless of whether they become scientists or
something else, will be asked to play a role in solving some of the big issues
that we are facing today. I think that if we provide training and education in
sustainability and green thinking, our students will be able to be the leaders
in emerging fields of sustainability and related areas.
How is studying green chemistry preparing our
students for jobs in the chemical field?
Green chemistry is not a specific field of chemistry,
but more of a philosophical or ethical approach to how we do science as
chemists. By providing training in the fundamentals of chemistry in addition to
giving thought to how you would design a molecule to be less toxic or a process
to be less polluting, we are adding value to the chemistry degree that a student
uses to look for a job. Many companies have adopted green programs or
sustainable development programs that need people who have a background in this
area. As a department, we believe that we give a strong fundamental background
in all of the fields of chemistry with a green component woven throughout. Green
chemists have to be first and foremost good scientists.
What does the future hold for green
People used to say that there would be a time when we
would no longer need to distinguish between green chemistry and other chemistry.
This has not really held true as most of us now think that because it is very
difficult to make things green we will always need to think about how to make
something greener when we design molecules. Because there is so much work to do,
there should always be a need for chemists trained in green chemistry!
How often do you present your research on
I usually attend one to two national or international
conferences every year and some additional regional speaking engagements. I just
returned from speaking about our green program at WSU at the Green Chemistry in
Education Workshop at the University of Oregon. Last fall I organized a
symposium about green chemistry and gave a talk about my research at the 14th
Asian Chemical Congress in Bangkok, Thailand.
Do you have any speaking opportunities coming
up this academic year?
I’m planning on giving a talk about my research at
the University of Maine (my alma mater) sometime this academic year. There are
many opportunities to choose from!
Department of Chemistry