Vosburg Honored for “Good and Beautiful, Green and Clever” Chemistry

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For his commitment to sustainable education, Harvey Mudd College Associate Professor of Chemistry David Vosburg has been selected as a recipient of the 2015 Award for Incorporating Sustainability into Chemistry Education, sponsored by the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Environmental Improvement (ACS-CEI).

Vosburg uses green chemistry principles to shape curriculum in organic courses and laboratories and in his own research. In his classes, he takes a systematic approach to sustainability.

“For each synthetic route we study in my advanced organic synthesis course, students consider the step count, chemical yield, atom economy, scalability, solvents, use of catalysts and the origin of materials (i.e., are they renewable or scarce?),” says Vosburg. “Syntheses are then criticized when they require hazardous reagents, protecting groups, stoichiometric reagents, functional group manipulations, energy-intensive steps and difficult purifications.”

Taking these exercises a step further, Vosburg encourages his students to discuss and analyze sustainability topics through in-class presentations and creative writing assignments, such as a chemical industry memorandum to employees or a jovial exchange between rival chemists.

“Mudd students care deeply about the impact of their work on society, and they enjoy the challenge of developing with me new and better ways of thinking about chemistry in the classroom and doing chemistry in the laboratory,” says Vosburg. “My students and I want to do chemistry that is good and beautiful, green and clever.”

On campus, Vosburg is recognized as a leader in sustainability practices. “Professor Vosburg is discovering innovative ways to carry out fundamentally new chemical transformations utilizing green and sustainable chemistry,” says Kerry Karukstis, Ray and Mary Ingwersen Professor of Chemistry and department chair. “Whether in the classroom or instructional laboratory or in his own research program, he challenges students to consider sustainable practices and green design of chemical reactions. He clearly embraces the chemistry department’s philosophy of educating all students at the College of the applicability of fundamental chemical principles to the solution of real problems facing today’s global society.”

Vosburg’s award address, “Empowering undergraduates for sustainability research and education,” will be given at the upcoming national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver, March 22–26. The Harvey Mudd Department of Chemistry will be well represented at this meeting, with 15 papers being delivered by students and faculty in a variety of symposia throughout the conference.