Worcester State University

 

Kerr Receives Fulbright to Promote Green Chemistry in Asia

 

The Asian market is so vast that the future of the planet depends considerably on what happens there in the next generation, ”according to Associate Professor of Chemistry Margaret Kerr, Ph.D.

With this in mind, Kerr will be promoting green chemistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, this fall. 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.

 Kerr said that in 2003 the Global Chemical Index, an important measure of economic growth worldwide, showed East Asia with an annual growth of 11.0%, compared with 6.7% in Central and Eastern Europe and 0.2% in the United States. “Asia is a major player in economic growth and development, and also in environmental degradation,” she pointed out. “It is essential to include Asia in any discussion about sustainability.”

Kerr is an expert in curriculum development and implementation of green chemistry, which reduces the use or generation of hazardous substances during chemical processes. By implementing green chemistry in student laboratories, she explained, schools immediately reduce their negative impact on the environment. More importantly, they prepare future scientists to develop benign approaches to chemical processes.

“Over the previous century, chemists have developed methods for the production of pharmaceuticals, computers and other technology, transportation, crop growth and protection, and household items,” said Kerr. “All of these processes have improved life expectancy and the overall quality of life of the world’s inhabitants. On the other hand, chemical releases into the environment have caused many disasters over the past 100 years.”

She added, “Chemistry as it is typically being practiced today is not on a sustainable trajectory and will continue to be a major source of environmental degradation in the future unless changes are made.”

Under Kerr’s direction, WSC adopted a green chemistry curriculum for its organic laboratory sequence three years ago, putting the College well ahead of the curve. “Worcester State is the only college in the area that has a green chemistry program,” she stated. “The skills our students are learning are becoming increasingly valuable in the workplace.”

Kerr is also part of an existing collaboration between the University of Oregon and Chulalongkorn University to incorporate green chemistry principles into the Thai middle and high school curriculum. Once the curriculum has been developed, it will be widely disseminated using an innovative eTraining program that utilizes existing videoconferencing technology.

Her Fulbright work will also involve promoting networking in the region. Kerr explained that there are at least four major green chemistry networks worldwide, including the Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) based in the United States and the Greening of Industry Network. “Chulalongkorn University hosts an international chapter of GCI and the Greening of Industry Asian chapter,” she said. “My colleagues and I will be hosting a conference during my stay that will bring people in the region together to learn about green chemistry and to share research.”

“Building networks in the region is critical to sustaining forward momentum in green chemistry research and curriculum development,” she added. Kerr, who will be in Thailand throughout the fall 2007 semester, is one of approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright Scholar Program this academic year.

The Fulbright Program, America’s flagship international educational exchange program, is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


Worcester Statement, fall 2007

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