Champion of sustainable chemistry: Jane Wissinger, IonE Educator
Meet Jane Wissinger, one of our new IonE Educators. A professor of Environmental & Green Chemistry in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), Wissinger plans to develop course materials illustrating sustainable chemistry, which she hopes will be readily adopted and taught in Organic Chemistry lecture courses both at the University of Minnesota and throughout the wider chemistry community.
Also during her time as an IonE Educator, Wissinger will continue her collaboration with the Chemistry Department’s Joint Safety Team and stockroom to offer information and products related to greener reaction media alternatives. Finally, she hopes to educate the campus community on how the chemical industry, in taking a “benign by design” approach, is developing ways in which it can economically produce products, services, and energy with reduced impact on human health and the environment. Wissinger took time to tell us more about her goals as an IonE Educator.
Why is the goal of your fellowship project important?
The chemical industry is often demonized by the public as the source of our environmental woes and health problems; in some cases, rightly so. Yet, our society’s standard of living and quality of life is deeply dependent on these same chemical products: cell phones, pharmaceuticals, food safety, and more. I feel it is important to demonstrate how the chemical enterprise, in adopting green chemistry principles, is having a positive impact on the discovery of more sustainable materials for future generations. Chemistry is a necessary part of the solution.
What drives you to integrate sustainability into your work?
In my early training as a chemist, I was somewhat conflicted between my profession and its negative environmental impact. Green and sustainable chemistry is a response by the chemical community to address past short-sighted thinking and to pave a way forward in rational design of safer materials. As a professor who teaches a course – Organic Chemistry – that is taken by thousands of students across many disciplines, I see an opportunity to inspire them with exciting new advances in green chemistry technologies and hopefully motivate some to join the quest and others to make informed decisions as voting citizens and consumers. In particular, I am driven to develop instructional materials centered on the development of more sustainable polymers needed to address the enormous accumulation of plastics on our land and in our waterways. It has been extremely rewarding to me, thus far, to witness my past students carry the torch forward and teach green chemistry themselves in high schools and colleges.
What do you wish more people understood about sustainability education?
Green and sustainable chemistry is not an independent discipline, but rather one that is inherently multidisciplinary. In designing a new chemical or product, systems thinking is required in everything from considering renewable feedstocks to end of life degradation. Understanding toxicology and predicting potential transport in the environment will help guide design strategies. Green and sustainable chemistry is also linked to public health and environmental justice because of its mission to protect and benefit the economy, people, and the planet.
What does being a part of the IonE community mean to you?
I am so very excited to be part of this cohort of educators. I have learned much already from the various disciplines represented and gained inspiration from hearing about other projects. Connection with the IonE community will be a valuable asset as I continue to become involved in the sustainability community on campus and at the national level through the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). I also hope to contribute by representing the green chemistry community, which I feel has been missing from the conversation.
Grace Becker is the Communications Assistant at the Institute on the Environment and an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, where she is studying Strategic Communications, Spanish, and Sustainability Studies.