Top 12 Things the GCI Accomplished in 2014

By Melanie Mastronardi, Secretary for the GCI

As the year comes to a close, I thought I would take this opportunity to recount some of the amazing things the GCI has accomplished over the last year. I should preface this list by saying that there are many things the GCI has been up to this year that don’t appear on the list – for example our ongoing trivia activities and the green chemistry seminar series, which are some of our greatest achievements overall – but here I wanted to highlight some of my favorite activities and initiatives that were new for us.

So in no particular order, here they are – my list of the top 12 things the GCI has accomplished in 2014:

1) In February 2014, we launched the 12 principles of green chemistry video campaign, posting our inaugural video about principle #1 on preventing waste. To date, we have produced and published videos outlining the first 4 principles and plan to finish up the remaining 8 in the near future. Be sure to check out all our videos so far on our YouTube channel!


Behind the scenes at our first video shoot.

2) On May 21-23, 2014 we hosted our second annual workshop, “The Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research”, at the University of Toronto. The workshop was a huge success with 12 invited speakers and over 70 participants attending from across North America.


Workshop attendees and speakers mingle at the social event.

3) In January 2014, we launched a Waste Awareness Campaign and started tracking the chemical waste produced in Lash Miller. We shared the result of the collected data with the department in September, and then hosted a lecture about waste collection and disposal given by Ken Greaves and Rob Provost.


Great turnout for the waste disposal talk!

4) We organized a symposium titled “Green Chemistry Initiatives Beyond the Classroom” as part of the 2014 International Conference on Chemical Education held in Toronto in July. The symposium featured 10 presentations that focused on alternative routes to green chemistry education as well as a panel discussion titled “Peer Teaching: Student-Run Sustainability Groups”.

IMG_2597 2

Student group panel at our ICCE symposium.

5) We developed a list of “Simple Techniques to Make Everyday Lab Work Greener”, which we shared at the GCI workshop in May and have subsequently posted online. Please check out the poster of our list and feel free to share it or post it in your lab as a reminder.

Simple Techniques to Make Everyday Lab Work Greener

Print out this handy guide for your own lab!

6) We re-launched the “Shut It” campaign – a program originally run in the Chemistry Department at UofT in 2008 to promote reducing energy usage by keeping variable-flow fume hoods closed while not in use. During the 4 months the campaign ran this year, we observed an average compliance of 69%, lowered the building’s energy usage, and taught occupants an easy way to conserve energy in the future.

7) Over the course of 2014, we formed a green chemistry education subcommittee, which has completed a review of the green chemistry content being taught in the chemistry undergraduate curriculum at UofT.

8) Throughout 2014, various members of the GCI represented our group and shared our experiences at conferences and events across North America. Laura Hoch presented at the ACS Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Washington D.C.; Laura Reyes presented at McGill University, the CSC Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition in Vancouver, and the International Conference on Chemical Education in Toronto; and Ian Mallov presented at the International Conference on Chemical Education in Toronto.

9) We inspired members of our department to start incorporating some of the principles of green chemistry in their research. For example, it recently came to our attention that the Kluger group has switched entirely from using hexanes to the less toxic alternative heptane. As an added benefit, this has lowered the cost of heptane for our department, encouraging even more people to use it!

10) GCI co-founders Laura Hoch and Melanie Mastronardi were invited to present the Sigma Xi Annual General Meeting Lecture as part of their University of Toronto Chapter Distinguished Lecture Series in April 2014.


Laura and Melanie at the Sigma Xi meeting.

11) We helped design a cover design for the Journal of Chemical Education, for the paper by UofT lecturer Andy Dicks titled “Green Chemistry Decision-Making in an Upper-Level Undergraduate Organic Laboratory”. Learn more about the cover and check out our pictured resources page.

JChemEd cover

We helped create this cover! Our website is featured on the computer screen.

12) In 2014, the GCI joined the Network of Early-career Sustainable Scientists and Engineers (NESSE) as one of their sustainable science groups. Much like the GCI, NESSE aims to empower early-career scientists to tackle today’s environmental and energy challenges, and move towards a sustainable future.


NESSE members at the 2014 Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference.

Green Chemistry Principle #1: Prevention

By Melanie Mastronardi, Secretary for the GCI

1. Prevention: It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it has been created.

In this video for the 1st principle of green chemistry – Prevention – we wanted to show how habits in the lab can have a big impact on the waste that is created when it comes to preparing and running experiments. But to make it a bit more interesting – and delicious – we decided to host our video in the kitchen and turn it into a cooking competition. In the video, GCI members Cookie and Laura face off to see who can make a pasta dish the quickest to feed their hungry friends.

Once they start cooking, we see that Laura and Cookie have very different habits in preparing and cooking food (although for the record, we asked them each to do things a particular way for illustrative purposes, so their actions don’t necessarily represent their habits in real life). Laura takes the time to plan and measure carefully using only what is actually needed, while Cookie works as fast as he can even if that means he makes a few mistakes and messes along the way.

Just when it looks like Cookie will be the clear winner, we find out that the competition includes the time needed to clean everything used to make the pasta dish. Laura finishes cooking shortly after Cookie does, but has a much smaller mess to clean up and ends up being declared the winner of the challenge. This is a great example of the impact that preventing waste can have, which is important in the kitchen and the lab alike.

While this particular pasta example may not seem too tragic, by comparing it to chemical processes we can start to see the true importance of preventing waste from a green chemistry perspective:

“Use the minimum amount of material required to get the job done”

Laura took the time to find out exactly what amount of water was needed to cook 1 package of spaghetti, while Cookie used much more than he needed to – now imagine if this water was a toxic solvent in a chemistry experiment – Cookie would have much more waste that needs to be treated and disposed of than Laura, who made sure to use the minimum amount required.

“Plan ahead, to prevent ending up with excess materials that will end up going to waste”

Laura went over the recipe carefully and bought only what was needed to complete the recipe, leaving a lot fewer leftover ingredients compared to Cookie. She even found a use for the leftover wine that otherwise would have been considered as waste in this experiment! In real life, leftover food can be saved to use another time, but if it doesn’t get used before it goes bad it will end up in the garbage. In many cases, chemicals – like food – go bad over time when they are opened – so it is better to open only what is needed at the time or plan to make use of any excess reagents.

“Work safely to prevent accidents, which can be dangerous and create unnecessary waste”

Another important thing to note is that by rushing and not being careful in the kitchen and especially in a chemistry lab, accidents are much more likely to happen, which have the potential to be very dangerous and cause messes that are much harder to clean up. Cookie made a pretty big mess by accidentally pouring the cheese into his pan at the wrong time, which he then had to clean up later.

By planning ahead and working carefully and efficiently, Laura hardly left any mess to clean up, created a minimum amount of waste, and ended up winning the challenge and being able to serve her friends a delicious pasta dish first! So remember, in anything you do, always plan ahead and think about prevention!

Green Chemistry Principle #2: Atom Economy

By Melanie Mastronardi, Chair for the GCI and Laura Reyes, Secretary for the GCI

2. Atom Economy: Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.

Atom Economy, the 2nd principle of green chemistry, comes down to preventing waste on a molecular level. It is an example of a green chemistry metric, which helps us understand the efficiency of a reaction. The equation for atom economy, shown below, essentially tells us the percentage of atoms that end up in the desired reaction product compared to how many atoms are put into the reaction. The higher the atom economy the better, since any atoms that are not incorporated into the final product are considered wasted.

In the GCI’s second video, Brian and Melanie outlined the concept of atom economy by comparing two different synthetic methods for making the over-the-counter drug ibuprofen.

As a supplement to the video, here we show how we did the atom economy calculations:

Brian's Reaction Scheme                  Melanie's Reaction Scheme

The % atom economy is calculated using the molar mass values indicated for each molecule in the reactions schemes above, excluding catalysts since they can be reused and therefore do not count towards a reaction’s atom economy. The atom economy for Brian’s reaction is determined as follows:

Brian's Reaction AE Calculation

For Melanie’s reaction, the atom economy calculation looks like this:

Melanie's Reaction AE Calculation

It’s clear through these two calculations that the new method for making ibuprofen, shown by Melanie, is much more atom economical at 77%, compared to 40% for the old method shown by Brian. Another way to think of this is that previously, 60% of the reagents used in the making of ibuprofen were wasted, but this was improved to only 23% being wasted. On an industrial scale, that’s a huge difference!

In the video, Melanie also explains that in the industrial process for her reaction, the excess acetic acid by-product that is formed ends up getting sold for other purposes, meaning that it doesn’t go to waste, so her % atom economy essentially ends up being 100%.

Be sure to also check out all of the videos in our campaign on our YouTube channel and keep an eye out for those to come!

Why Green Chemistry?

By Melanie Mastronardi, Chair for the GCI

In honour of the GCI’s upcoming Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research workshop, I wanted to share with you why I think it is so important that scientists learn about green chemistry and actually put the concepts into action.  Since chemistry is essentially responsible for everything we come into contact with, I believe that it is my responsibility as a chemist to make sure that the materials I produce are as benign and environmentally friendly as possible.  Learning about green chemistry has not only helped me make my research more sustainable, but it has also given me a new perspective on chemistry that has helped open new doors for my future career that I may not have found otherwise.  Through the GCI’s various initiatives, and in particular our upcoming workshop, we hope to not only educate chemists about green chemistry, but inspire them to put the concepts into action for the benefit of the environment, their research, and future careers.   But you don’t have to just take my word for it that learning about green chemistry is a good investment of your time, take a look at what some other members of our department had to say about the importance of green chemistry and how the GCI has helped shape this mentality at the University of Toronto:

“The GCI invites students to consider the potential of their research to change the environment for the better, whether through detecting risks or presenting better alternatives.  This is a tremendously important opportunity to generate long range benefits that can be widely appreciated.”  – Prof. Gilbert Walker, Associate Chair of Graduate Studies

“It’s important as scientists to keep in mind that we should work to minimize our impact on the environment and learning about green chemistry is one of the ways.  I have been able to implement some aspects of green chemistry into my own research, in particular removing transition metals in catalysis, and it has had a positive impact on my projects, leading them into a new, unique direction.” – Chris Caputo, PhD Student in Inorganic Chemistry and ChemClub President

“Chemistry undergraduates desperately need to hear about sustainability principles as part of their education… not just our program students, but all first-year life and physical scientists too. How else are they going to make the important greener decisions of the future?”  – Dr. Andy Dicks, Senior Lecturer

“To me, the GCI is the organization that is (and will hopefully continue to be) the catalyst for sustainable chain-reactions in our own research, in our Department and also in our daily lives.  Being a member of the GCI enables me to be part of the solution towards an environmentally friendly future by reducing waste and energy, by promoting sustainable practices and by developing novel green chemistry.”  – Nadine Borduas, PhD student in Environmental Chemistry and member of the GCI

“I think green chemistry is a natural progression of the need for environmentally sustainable chemical processes… I want to learn about green chemistry, so that I will not be left behind.”  – Kenny Chen, MSc student in Polymer and Materials Chemistry and member of the GCI

So whether you already know a lot about green chemistry, or this is the first time you are hearing about it, why not take the opportunity to learn more about how you can make your research and future more sustainable.  Full details about the Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research workshop, which is taking place May 21-23, 2014 at the University of Toronto, can be found on our website at  And make sure to register before this Friday, March 28th in order to take advantage of our $60 discounted early registration fee!


The Green Chemistry Initiative Kicks Off Year Two with the Future Leaders in Green Chemistry Challenge

ChemClub Poster SessionBy Melanie Mastronardi, Chair for the GCI

Earlier this week I had the distinct pleasure of announcing the winners of the Green Chemistry Initiative’s Future Leaders in Green Chemistry Challenge, and it was truly inspiring to see so many people talking passionately about how green chemistry fits into their work here in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto.  As chair of the GCI, I have been thinking about starting a blog of sorts to help us share news about our exciting projects and cool things that come up in the world of green chemistry – and summarizing the events of the Future Leaders in Green Chemistry Challenge seemed like a great place to start!     

During ChemClub’s Departmental Poster and Networking Session held Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 in the Davenport Atrium, the participants of our challenge presented their applications, either a poster or written statement, showing how they currently or propose to incorporate green chemistry into their research or the department’s educational curriculum.  There was a great turnout at the poster session – particularly when the free pizza was served – so it was an ideal venue at which to host our challenge.   It was also really nice to see so many students and members of our department networking and talking about their research in general, so congrats to ChemClub for putting together this wonderful event!

We had many terrific entries in the Future Leaders in Green Chemistry Challenge, and the faculty we recruited to judge the challenge were quite impressed!  I am very grateful for the time and effort our judges put into reviewing the entries and chatting with the applicants, so thank you Dr. Andy Dicks, Dr. Effiette Sauer, Dr. Barbora Morra, Prof. Jamie Donaldson, and Prof. Gilbert Walker.

The winner of the $500 scholarship awarded for the research category was Chris Caputo of the Stephan Group, whose written application detailed his outstanding work developing a hydrodefluorination reaction to catalytically convert environmentally hazardous and persistent fluorocarbons to alkanes using Lewis acids with a phosphorous center and silanes as a hydride source and fluoride sink.  This research provides an alternative to methods for degrading fluorocarbons that use stoichiometric amounts of transition metal complexes, which can be quite toxic, expensive and rare.  This work was also recently published in Science, so be sure to check it out! (C.B. Caputo, L.J. Hounjet, R. Dobrovestky, D.W. Stephan. Science, 2013, 341, 1374-1377.)

In the education category, Nadine Borduas of the Murphy and Abbatt Groups won the $500 scholarship for her proposal to incorporate a green chemistry assignment into a third year organic chemistry course.  The proposed assignment asks students to perform a retrosynthetic analysis of a given molecule, assess the “greeness” of each transformation, and justify their choice of route using the recently published GlaxoSmithKline reagent guide (Green Chem., 2013, 15, 1542-1549.) and solvent selection guides (Green Chem., 2011, 13, 854-862; Green Chem., 2008, 10, 31-36.)  Adding this assignment to the curriculum will give students the opportunity to learn about the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry and train them to think intuitively about how to create a more sustainable research environment by using greener reagents, while practicing their retrosynthetic analysis skills.  This assignment is set to get a trial run this winter as part of CHM343H and we look forward to hearing how it goes!

GCI Challenge Participants

The GCI is proud to congratulate the efforts of all the participants of the challenge, who went home with a little something for their participation: Brandon Djukic (Seferos Group), David McLagan (Wania Group), Gnana Sutha Thomas (Zamble Group), Jonathon Moir (Ozin Group), Landon Edgar (Nitz Group), Lulu Huixin Lu (Woolley Group), Mark Miltenburg (Seferos Group), Paul DiCarmine (Seferos Group), Peter Sues (Morris Group), Wei Sun and Chenxi Qian (Ozin Group).

Since founding the GCI just over a year ago, we have received so much support from many people in the department, which we are very grateful for.  However, we have also struggled to get others to see the value in green chemistry, which in my experience is a challenge faced everywhere by green chemistry enthusiasts.  With successes such as the Future Leaders in Green Chemistry Challenge and the great attendance we had at our recent Green Chemistry Seminar Series talk given by Professor C.J. Li from McGill University, it appears that we are in fact making an impact in getting our chemistry community thinking about green chemistry.  We have had several new members join the GCI team this year, and are excited to continue growing to bring the department more opportunities to learn about green chemistry and share their knowledge.  Once such opportunity is the start of our Green Chemistry Journal Club, which will have its inaugural monthly meeting November 7th, 2013 from 4:30-5:30pm and all are invited to attend!  More details will be announced shortly, but I can tell you that GCI members Kenny Chen and Laura Hoch, who are avid bakers, will be providing the treats for the first meeting!  Hopefully we’ll see you there or at one of our other GCI events soon!