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An MIT student design project has won a People, Prosperity and Planet Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than 400 students representing 65 teams from more than 50 schools participated in the first "P3" competition, which was held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on May 16 and 17.
To win the P3, a project had to demonstrate how it would advance sustainability in the developed or developing world. There were seven winners this year.
MIT's project, titled "Encouraging Toxic Use Reduction (TUR) in Academic Laboratories," led by Professor Jeffrey Steinfeld of the chemistry department and Jamie Lewis Keith of the Environmental Programs Office, received an EPA grant of $30,000.
MIT's project combined a survey of the laboratory culture surrounding chemical purchasing, use, sharing and disposal (overseen by anthropology Professor Susan Silbey), with an investigation of chemical waste generation and management at the Institute. The project yielded a methodology for selecting more benign and environmentally preferable substitutes ("green chemistry"). The project's primary goal is the development of educational tools, including a chemical alternatives purchasing interface, which researchers and students can use to make more sustainable chemical selections.
"The promise of green chemistry seems to already be recognized by industry, which many argue can afford to make these types of changes as opposed to a small academic laboratory," states chemistry major Jacqueline Tio '06, who, in tandem with fellow major Kendra Bussey '05, developed much of the project content. But I am convinced, even on a small scale, incorporating green chemistry upstream in batch reactions would greatly help those downstream fine-tuning a reaction on larger scales.
"If small labs start making more chemically sustainable choices, it will at some point in time become affordable and, ultimately, cost effective for academic laboratories in general."
Jamie Lewis Keith, managing director for environmental programs and risk management, and senior counsel said, "The Environmental Programs Office is delighted that we were able to support Professor Steinfeld and his students in this important green chemistry work, which we plan to implement on campus. We are deeply appreciative of the EPA's recognition and continuing support for this innovative and practical project."
For more information on MIT's winning project, visit http://web.mit.edu/environment/academic/green_chemicals.html. For more information about green chemistry at MIT, e-mail greenchem@MIT.edu.