Alabama professor sports beloved crimson, but discusses benefits of green chemistry
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 11:02
During the heavy rain this past Monday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m., Dr. Robin Rodgers spoke in the auditorium of the Humanities Building on campus as part of the Academic Speakers Series.
The event was not only sponsored by the Honors Program but also by the UTM Student Members of the American Chemical Society.
Rodgers is a Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry at the University of Alabama and holds quite a few credentials. He has published over 685 papers and holds 12 issued patents. In 2007, he held the position of Chair of Green Chemistry as well as the position of Co-Director of QUILL (Queen’s University Ionic Liquids Laboratories) at the Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Rodgers was also named an Honorary Professor in 2009 at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute for Process Engineering in Beijing.
First, Rodgers entertained the audience by beginning with pictures and statistics of his “home,” the University of Alabama, where he currently works, as well as where he received both his B.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry.
He went on to humor the audience with his love of UA’s football team. His attire was complete with a crimson-colored jacket and an elephant-printed tie. To be certain, everyone got a good laugh. Rodgers’s fine sense of humor followed throughout his presentation.
After successfully lightening the mood, he progressively delved into more serious, substantial—and to all the non-science people, more complicated—topics, mostly concerning green chemistry.
First, though, Rodgers provided a curious insight into the image of scientists in the very beginning after the launch of Sputnik in 1957.
“We were the heroes,” Rodgers said. “The pervasive belief of the time was that they [the scientists] were going to do great things; they were an integral part of society.”
Then, as he explained, suddenly their overall image changed: “an irrational fear overrode science,” and scientists were depicted as “evil” and “mad.” Rodgers contributed this to the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962. This non-fictional book largely questioned the impact that humans were having on the environment and challenged the chemical industry.
Rodgers used these facts as a springboard for his introduction of green chemistry. Whereas
traditionally the approaches to reducing environmental risk have been focused on reducing exposure, he explained, “Green chemistry involves designing chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and/or generation of hazardous substances.”
Rodgers went on to elaborate on the benefits of green chemistry; he stated that the whole plan was designed to minimize harm to the environment and climate change in general. He explained that it would help to create social cohesion by way of environmental integrity and social responsibility. Rodgers also illuminated the fact that the design of green chemistry was both feasible and economically viable as well as held the potential to create new business opportunities among other things.
“Green chemistry is integral to sustainability,” Rodgers said.
The rest of his talk included information about particular principles of green chemistry being set forth and changes that are attempting to be made. Rodgers spoke on the sustainability of ionic liquids and the problems and issues concerning chitin and cellulose.
Overall, Rodger’s speech explained the conflict between the environment and chemistry in today’s day and time. Rodger’s overall goal, he said, was “to challenge [students] to think.”