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Vol. 30 No. 4
July-August 2008

Green Chemistry Course for Teachers: Latin American High School Teachers Learn About Sustainable Chemistry

by Norma Sbarbati Nudelman

Since 2005, the Argentine National Academy of Sciences (ANCEFN) has been organizing one-week courses on sustainable/green chemistry for high school teachers. The courses have been popular because the principles of sustainable/green chemistry are not well understood in Latin America although the subject is especially relevant to education and industrial development in the region.

The teachers engage in practical laboratory work.

One of the main objectives of the course is to attract interest among university professors, high school teachers, and students in the principles and activities of sustainable/green chemistry around the world, and to disseminate the ongoing research in Latin American universities as well as in leading industries. Another goal is help change the public image of chemistry, by publicizing—to governments, NGOs, and the general public—the multiple benefits that environmentally friendly chemistry provides and the ways in which it enhances our quality of life. Education plays an essential role in the dissemination of these concepts and the importance of sharing responsibilities.

Course Features
The five-days course, comprising 10 lectures, 3 practical laboratory experiments, two workshops in break-out groups, visits to two industrial plants, and written examinations, involves 50 hours of learning. The lectures are given by specialists from chemical industries and/or universities working in different fields of sustainable/green chemistry. Each lecture starts with a sound introduction to the subject and then develops to reach the “state-of-the-art” level on each topic, including up-to-date literature. The language of the course is Spanish and the main written material is the book Quimica Sustentable, written in 2004. As far as we know, this is the first book written in Spanish on the subject.

The course starts with a brief description of the more serious global environmental problems caused by chemicals, safe management practices, international agreements (Basilea, Stockholm, and Rotterdam), and the search for integration and synergies. Then it focuses on renewable sources, (particularly those abundant in the region) of chemicals and materials, friendly protection of crops, the difference between PICs (products of incomplete combustion) and POPs (persistant organic pollutants), and on clean technologies for pollution prevention and reduction (sustainable alternatives). Each lecture shows that a technology is sustainable as long as it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (“sharing responsibilities”). Since crop-derived feedstocks are more sustainable than oil-based ones, one lecture is devoted to the routes of transformation of abundant natural products. Catalysis is also a powerful tool for promoting the reduction of pollution. Other lectures describe recently developed environmentally friendly technologies that avoid the use of organic solvents and other potentially toxic and/or persistent chemicals. Two lectures focus on alternatives to using conventional organic solvents and techniques for the replacement of halocarbons.

The course also covers teaching methods: A lecture by a science-education specialist is included, and participants are asked to present a 10-minute presentation about how they will apply some of the principles learned during the course in their own classrooms.

Teachers learn about estractig caffeine from tea leaves.

The 1st Latin American Course on Sustainable Chemistry was held in Mendoza, Argentina, in November 2005. Organized by the ANCEFN and the National University of Cuyo, it received a large number of applicants, 84 from Argentina and 22 from other Latin American countries. Since no more than 40 participants could attend, the ANCEFN decided to offer a new course the following year. The second course, with 30 participants from Argentina and 10 from 10 different Latin American countries, was held in Bahia Blanca and sponsored by ANCEFN, the Inter-American Network of National Academies of Sciences, and UNESCO. The course included visits to two production centers: Petrochemical Cuyo and Bodegas San Felipe, a very well-known winery in Mendoza, gave the teachers a look at how good green chemistry practices have been achieved and how they contribute to industrial development. At Petrochemical Cuyo, an important super-critical fluids plant, participants saw how the extraction of caffeine from tea leaves that they performed during lab work with conventional organic solvent was performed with super-critical fluids in the plant.

The 3rd Course on Sustainable Chemistry was held in Corrientes, Argentina, in October 2007. It was organized by the ANCEFN and the National University of Corrientes. Visits were organized to a plant of water potabilization that is built on the shores of the Paraná, a very large river, and also to a beer production plant, where participants observed how waste treatment and reutilization of mass residues were used for energy generation. A large number of participants from Uruguay were accepted this time in addition to participants from Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Colombia.

This year, a pre-course one-day symposium is being organized, which will provide a first formative evaluation of how the principles and other outcomes of the Sustainable Chemistry Course are being introduced in the classrooms. Participants from the three previous courses are invited to apply for it and share with the audience their experiences of teaching sustainable/green chemistry in their respective schools.

We are convinced that this kind of course and accompanying activities help underline the relevance of sustainable/green chemistry for emerging regions, emphasizing that industrial development requires proper planning and compliance with international environmental agreements, not only for technological success but also to allow future generations to meet their needs. Some local students had been invited to informally attend the courses, and their satisfaction with this “new, clean chemistry” is quite clear. And last but not least, since the three previous courses were organized in different provinces of the country, the local press, TV, and other mass media, provided wide coverage of the lectures, laboratory work, and visits to the production centers.

Norma Sbarbati Nudelman <nudelman@qo.fcen.uba.ar> is a professor of organic chemistry at the university of Buenos Aires. In IUPAC, she has been a member of CHEMRAWN and also of the Organic and Biomolecular Division subcommittee on Structural and Mechanistic Chemistry. She was also instrumental in the completion of a project titled “Toward a Core Organic Chemistry Curriculum for Latin American Universities.” She is a member of the CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina) and ANCEFN.


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