Pingree chemistry teacher Irv Levy was recently the keynote speaker in Wichita, Kansas at the American Chemical Society’s Wichita Section Student Awards event. His lecture was titled “A Farewell to Harms: the Green Chemistry Commitment,” and it outlined the green chemistry commitment (GCC) project that Irv has worked to support for the past ten years with his external partner, Beyond Benign. This project encourages colleges and universities worldwide to provide training in green chemistry for all of their chemistry graduates. Green chemistry is defined as chemistry designed to be inherently safer for human health and the environment.
Irv was recently made aware that one of the attendees in his lecture signed up for the GCC.
We chatted with Irv about his experience with Beyond Benign and how Pingree has supported him in this effort.
Pingree School: What inspired you to become involved with Beyond Benign?
Irv Levy: Beyond Benign (BB) is the world leader in green chemistry education for all ages, K-12, college, graduate school, and industry. The founders are my friends Drs. Amy Cannon and John Warner. I worked for BB on a part-time basis for a number of years. I also served several years on their board of directors. I’ve been with John and Amy since before Beyond Benign was actually formally founded. I currently serve as their senior faculty advisor.
PS: How has Pingree supported your work?
IL: Pingree has supported my work by providing a platform to train young people about chemistry done in ways that are designed to be intentionally safer for human health and the environment. The goals of green chemistry are entirely consistent with the mission statement of Pingree School, to create a more just and equitable world.
BB supports Pingree School by sharing resources and providing a go-to place for educators to gather and share experiences. In a practical way, BB has donated a lot of equipment and supplies to me to use at Pingree School. When you come into the chemistry lab in room 125, all of the students will be wearing lab coats that were donated by Beyond Benign. BB also supports some of my travel to professional conferences as I support their initiatives like the Green Chemistry Commitment as well as many others over the years.
What should readers know about green chemistry in their everyday lives?
Green chemistry is the solution to the problems that chemistry causes for human health and the environment. When you hear about chemistry in the news, there is usually an explosion, fire, or evacuation because of a harmful event that has occurred. Following the principles of green chemistry trains us to do chemistry in ways that are intentionally designed to be safer for human health and the environment. Until all chemists are trained with these principles it is inevitable that harm will continue. The goal of the green chemistry community around the world is to make this a standard part of all training of all chemists and then, one day, we can drop the qualifier “green” and just call it "chemistry."
Have you implemented curriculum elements provided by Beyond Benign in your science curriculum at Pingree?
Actually, the fun answer is that Beyond Benign has implemented some of the curriculum I have created to share with others over the years. In fact, Flynn Scientific markets two lab sets that are under than Beyond Benign umbrella that I actually created. The activities are called
Green Chemistry: Road Deicers
Learn a quick way to assess the relative toxicities of chemicals commonly found in road deicers. This lab, developed in partnership with Beyond Benign, has students examine the effects of aqueous solutions of sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride on germination and growth of lettuce seeds. The procedure introduces toxicity measurements while using standard equipment and common techniques, such as serial dilution and volumetric measurement. The goal of the lab is to identify which of the road deicers is the most benign with respect to potential environmental impacts
Green Chemistry: Ash Water Titration
This green chemistry version of a strong acid–strong base titration, developed in partnership with Beyond Benign, uses wood ash, a renewable source of the base, instead of NaOH.
Is there anything else that I should share to provide more context or depth?
Last spring (2022) a group of Pingree students went with me to the Boston Museum of Science to do outreach on the Rise Up event at the museum highlighting the concerns of climate change. This opportunity came to me and our students through an invitation from Beyond Benign.