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Andrews Institute Grant Fuels Green Chemistry

By Shelley Hulme for TCU This Week

Heidi Conrad, Ph.D., organic lab coordinator, was awarded an Andrews Institute grant to redesign O.D. Wyatt High School’s chemistry curriculum to incorporate green chemistry principles into the school’s chemistry lab experiments. Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that minimize both the use and generation of hazardous substances. It applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, use and disposal.

Last September, Conrad, with help from 12 of her chemistry students and four teachers at O.D. Wyatt, began examining the school’s lecture and laboratory curriculum.

The group identified a dozen experiments that both piqued the students’ interest and incorporated environmentally safe experiments, where ending products can safely go down the drain rather than requiring disposal by a waste management company. The experiments, comprising designs from Conrad as well as online options, were tested by O.D. Wyatt teachers and students and reviewed by Conrad for both continuity and credit.

“There is a greater push, both academically and in industry, to develop more green synthetic routes for commonly used products due to long-term environmental concerns,” said Conrad. “We specifically focused on experiments that students could safely perform without concern for the ending products or how to dispose of them.”

One experiment the team developed uses cat litter to determine the number of molecules and particles of a sample, the density of a sample and the water absorption of the cat litter. By comparing clumping cat litter to biodegradable cat litter and the known values of the density of the constituents of the litter, students learn basic calculations they will perform throughout their study of chemistry. And both the cat litter and water can be disposed of in the regular trash or down the drain.

In addition to the redesign of the curriculum, the team organized the high school’s chemical supply rooms. Twenty volunteers from TCU, each trained on proper lab safety and supervised by Conrad and the school’s teachers, evaluated the chemicals on hand to determine their need based on the new curriculum, their disposal methods and the integrity of their storage containers. The students properly coded the chemicals and secured pickup from an approved vendor for hazardous and outdated chemicals.

This project is not the first partnership between TCU and O.D. Wyatt High School. Students from TCU Chemistry Club tutor students at O.D. Wyatt through a program they call College Bound, and the TCU College Advising Corps, which helps low-income, first-generation and under-represented students find their way to college, has a full-time adviser on site at the high school.

The Andrews Institute supports a variety of activities that enhance teaching and learning of mathematics and science. Since 1999, the Institute has received more than $3 million in grant funding to support both research and service projects.