UC Berkeley Advances Sustainable Chemistry Education with Dow Gift

The UC Berkeley College of Chemistry will rebuild the college’s aging undergraduate teaching labs and design a new curriculum based on the principles of sustainability and green chemistry with the support of a $3.5 million gift from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation.

“I am very grateful for the support we have received from Dow,” says College of Chemistry Dean Richard A. Mathies. “This very generous and ground-breaking gift from the Dow Foundation will transform chemical sciences instruction for the 21st Century. These funds will enable us to completely renew our undergraduate instructional laboratories and our curriculum with a sharp focus on sustainable green chemical practices. The impact of this gift is huge because these courses serve thousands of students every year. Furthermore, Berkeley is now leading the way in making sustainable green chemical practices a core concept in our entire profession.”

Dow Executive Vice President for Business Services, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Information Officer, and a 1975 UC Berkeley chemical engineering graduate, David Kepler, helped coordinate the gift. 

“As a leading global chemistry company committed to sustainability, Dow sees the need to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers beyond traditional chemistry into the discipline of sustainable chemistry,” Kepler says. 

Sustainable chemistry uses the principles of green chemistry in the design of products and processes which reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances while addressing environmental impact. Sustainable chemistry is applied across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture and use. Sustainable chemistry is a highly effective and innovative scientific approach to addressing solutions to real-world environmental and social situations.

To implement this new vision, funds from the Dow gift will transform the curriculum in three ways:

  • First, the teaching labs will be renovated to reduce the impact of their use through sustainable practices. Lab equipment, hoods and lighting will be replaced to bring it up to the latest efficiency standards.
  • Second, the lab curriculum will be completely revised to incorporate sustainability into every experiment. The curriculum will be based on independent teaching modules that will engage the students by having them choose their experimental topics.
  • Third, a chemical analysis instrumentation facility will be built to give the thousands of students in the introductory courses the opportunity to work with modern instrumentation.

Each year more than 2,300 Berkeley undergrads in chemistry, physical sciences, biological sciences, engineering and other majors take introductory chemistry classes.

“Our undergrad and grad students will go on to pursue careers in many fields,” Dean Mathies says. “The impact of our new sustainability curriculum will be amplified as our students take jobs in academia and begin to teach their own courses. Meanwhile our students in government and industry will spread sustainable practices as their careers develop.”

“We are excited to partner with the College of Chemistry to bring enhancements to both the curriculum and the learning environment that will encourage students to adopt the principles of sustainable chemistry from their first day in the lab and the classroom,” Kepler says.