My Journey to Green Chemistry – By Leah Block

Continuing our theme of regular guest contributors, we are very excited to present another wonderful personal perspective from not only a close friend of mine but also an inspirational Green Chemist. I first met Leah Block at the ACS Green Chemistry Summer School program over a year ago and am fortunate to know someone with so much passion for making green and sustainable changes to our society and environment. So, without further ado, I present to you an inspirational article on Leah’s personal drive to make a difference. Leah, thank you so much for the article.

 

Green chemistry and sustainable energy have always been a prevalent part of my life. Starting with my younger years when I was in preschool, I thought clouds were created from factory smokestacks along the New Jersey Turnpike. Throughout my elementary education, I learned how clouds were actually made and how pollution affects the world as a whole. The ripples caused by pollution range from thick smog to the dynamics in underdeveloped countries that cannot protect themselves from the toxins in the air, water and ground. Currently, the acidity of the ocean is at an all-time high; causing the coral reefs to degrade, killing the algae and, as a result, affecting everything up the food chain. Once I became aware of the occurring harm, I have wanted to help work toward a cleaner future.

 While working towards my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at York College of Pennsylvania, I was chosen to be the first undergraduate to blog for Chemistry and Engineering News (C&EN) from the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change) at the COP-16 (sixteenth conference of parties) meeting. During my time at the conference, I attended meetings, interviewed government officials and non-government affiliated members from around the world on their stance on climate change. We know it is occurring and many groups have overlapping views of what needs to be done to slow this change. This was a great experience, especially after listening to climate skeptics speak with supportive audiences for months, and then attending a huge conference with thousands of people passionate to make a change in the world we live in was remarkable.

 For the past 3.5 years, I have been progressing towards my Doctorate in Chemistry at The University of Alabama under Robin D. Rogers. My work involves green ionic liquid solvents that are recycled and my starting material comes from an abundant waste material: discarded shrimp shells. I am working towards a goal that has the potential to revolutionize high-end medical and cosmetic supports. My supports can be manipulated into different shapes and sizes for specific applications. In one project, I create microspheres to replace the plastic scrubbers in microdermabrasion face and body washes. With my replacement, the issues of plastic accumulation specifically affecting the Great Lakes would be nonexistent.

 I would hope to one day see my naturally biodegradable supports available at cosmetic counters and drug stores across the world. Not only would it be personally gratifying to have my work utilized by a large portion of the population, but having it positively impact the issues of water pollution and the world we live in is the most gratifying outcome of my work.

 Although some of my daily lab tasks can become mundane overtime, I remind myself of the larger picture and how my efforts may impact the world in a greener manner. Every experiment that is completed utilizing greener technologies and methods leads towards a greener future ultimately benefiting the environment we all live in.