Green Chemistry Education through TAs at the University of Toronto

By Julia Bayne, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Green chemistry education is one of our main initiatives within our chemistry department. As part of an ongoing collaboration, we, the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), work with the teaching faculty to help modify and improve the undergraduate curriculum through the incorporation of green chemistry. This partnership has resulted in a substantial increase in the amount of green chemistry taught in the classroom and the modification or replacement of a number of experiments in the laboratory component of these courses. For example, the University of Toronto offers a third year undergraduate chemistry course (CHM343H: Organic Synthesis Techniques) that has undergone a complete transformation and now largely emphasizes the main concepts of green chemistry. Not only is the theory discussed in lecture, but the students are also strongly encouraged (and graded on their ability) to integrate green chemistry practices into their experiments in the laboratory.[1]

Green Chemistry for TAs Handout - page 1

We created this handout to encourage TAs to teach their students the basics of green chemistry [PDF].

Although this initiative has emphasized educating the undergraduate students, we found that the teaching assistants (TAs) and laboratory demonstrators did not always have a strong training in green chemistry themselves, and therefore did not necessarily feel comfortable teaching green chemistry concepts to their students. With this in mind, our next goal was to create a handout for TAs that would contain a concise explanation of green chemistry, along with some tips that they could use to help encourage students to align their thinking with the 12 principles of green chemistry. This handout, entitled “Tips for Teaching Green Chemistry to Students (pdf)” contains a brief explanation of green chemistry and lists the 12 principles of green chemistry with a short summary to highlight each one. The handout also includes suggestions on how to encourage undergraduate students to properly implement these principles into their laboratory practice.

Subsequently, we chose to highlight four key teaching points (pdf) through fun graphics that help emphasize the importance of green chemistry in the lab. The key points are as follows: 1) Work on a small scale, 2) A higher LD50 (median lethal dose) value typically indicates a safer chemical, 3) Minimize solvent use when washing glassware, and 4) Separate waste in the correct container so it can be disposed of accordingly. By simplifying and highlighting these important points, we hope that TAs will feel more comfortable teaching a few basic green chemistry concepts to their students, and similarly, we hope that the students will gain a better understanding of how to apply the principles of green chemistry to real-world situations in the laboratory.

Green Chemistry for TAs Handout - page 2

Starting from the perspective of undergrad labs, we picked these 4 key green chemistry teaching points to emphasize to the TAs [PDF].

We anticipate that by reaching out to the graduate students who teach the lab component of the undergraduate courses, they will themselves be more comfortable and excited to teach students about green chemistry, including the straightforward substitutions and modifications it has to offer. Ultimately, we hope to see more enthusiasm among the undergraduate students as they grasp the importance and benefits of including green chemistry in the laboratory component of their courses and potentially research laboratories in the future.


[1] Edgar, L. J. G.; Koroluk, K. J.; Golmakani, M. and Dicks, A. P. J. Chem. Ed. 2014, 91, 1040-1043.