Vol. 20, No. 18

July 19, 2001

Book on environmental 'green'
chemistry grows out of UD course

Green chemistry, which focuses on sustaining the environment by examining the environmental and social impact of chemistry and looking at alternative methods of chemical processing and conservation, is a concept that is catching on, according to Albert Matlack, an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Formerly an industrial research chemist with Hercules Research Center, Matlack has taught a course in green chemistry at UD since 1995. The course got its impetus when he read a report in the April 1994 issue of Chemical and Engineering News on green chemistry and later attended a symposium on environmental chemistry education.

"At the time I began preparing for and teaching the course, I was aware of only one other course being taught in the country, but now several colleges and universities offer courses in green chemistry," he said.

Based on the foundation of his teaching and research for the UD class, Matlack has spent three years writing a text and reference book, entitled Introduction to Green Chemistry, recently published by Marcel Dekker.

In the introduction, Matlack recalled the "glorious days of the 1950s and 1960s" when "chemists envisioned chemistry as the solution to a host of society's needs.

"Unfortunately," Matlack writes, "amid the success stories were some adverse outcomes that chemists had not foreseen," such as the effects of drugs like thalidomide which caused birth defects and the negative impact of insecticides. He also discusses chemical accidents and industrial waste.

The book's chapters include such topics as "The Chlorine Controversy," "Toxic Heavy Metal Ions," "Working without Organic Solvents," "Agrochemicals" and "Environmental Economics."

Introduction to Green Chemistry is heavily documented, with more than 5,000 references. Each chapter also includes recommended readings so that students can discuss the pros and cons of different issues, and exercises for hands-on learning by students. It may be as simple as watching people disposing of trash in the chapter on "Chemistry of Recycling" or more complex problems, such as devising a potentially commercial method of preparing aluminum by electrolysis that does not involve any fluoride in the chapter on "The Chlorine Controversy" or devising a way to make benzene from renewable materials in the chapter on "Materials for a Sustainable Economy."

An article on Matlack's class appeared in the February 1999 issue of a journal, also entitled Green Chemistry. In that article, Matlack said "Two common criticisms of scientists are that their training is too narrow and they do not consider the social impact of their work."

Matlack said his goal is to broaden scientists' and engineers' perspectives and to make them more aware of their options in helping the environment in their personal and professional lives. His teaching and his book are designed to promote green chemistry, which he said should be integrated into all chemical and chemical engineering classes.

"As an industrial chemist and now a teacher in academia, I am familiar with both worlds and can look at green chemistry from both viewpoints. I try to encourage students to think of problems in a non-traditional way that can have a positive impact on the world we live in," he said.

Matlack is a graduate of the University of Virginia and received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He holds more than 130 U.S. and foreign patents and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He currently is president of the Society of Natural History of Delaware.

–Sue Moncure