Dr. Gary Reid Bishop

April 20, 2012 (Jackson) - Student chemist at Belhaven University are experiencing what only a handful of universities across the country ever encounter; a completely green chemistry program.

Last year, Belhaven’s new chemistry professor, Dr. Gary Reid Bishop walked through the doors and completely changed the way the chemistry program operates.

Dr. Bishop, who came from Mississippi College after six years as the Chemistry Department‘s Assistant Professor, believes that social and environmental change begins in the classroom. “Organic chemists are indirectly responsible for the largest amounts of pollution in the world. You then realize that chemists and professors need to be the ones pushing the frontier of chemistry toward protecting the environment,” Dr. Bishop said.

Great advances in chemistry such as plastics, gasoline, pesticides and paints are simultaneously filling our landfills, air and water with environmentally harmful chemicals that can take years to break down.

Belhaven University’s has the only chemistry department in Mississippi that has adopted a completely green perspective in every class and laboratory.

Dr. Bishop said, “The chemical reactions we study use materials that are safer for the environment and can easily break down. Our experiments use small amounts of materials, conserve energy and cut the use of heavy metals, solvents and acids.” According to Dr. Bishop, these green chemistry experiments yield the same scientific results one would get using regular and more harmful materials, but minimize the problems in a way that is safer for the environment.

For example, students in one organic chemistry class have learned how to start reactions without solvents. Student chemist placed their experiments in beakers on a window seal and waited for a little sunlight. This experiment showed the use of natural sunlight as a catalyst for a reaction.

These green methods are sometimes more technical and often require finesse. Students are challenged from a critical thinking perspective. David Spencer, a junior from Oregon, said, “It’s been more of an interactive lab in the sense that it’s less just going to a lab and following written out methods; we are motivated to think and understand each experiment, leaving out the environmentally harmful waste.”

In the current cultural climate ‘going green’ is seen as a buzzword or cliché, but Dr. Bishop adds, “It is an actual, realistic discipline that is practiced everyday in Belhaven’s science labs.” Every laboratory is designed around the 12 Green Chemistry Principles. These 12 principles provide student and faculty chemists a road map to implement green chemistry. Belhaven’s chemistry curriculum has modeled its program from other institutions like the University of Wisconsin Madison and University of Oregon.

The chemistry program’s goal is to make better physicians, scientists, and leaders while educating students about the importance of chemistry in environmental quality.

Belhaven’s student led and newly formed chapter of Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS) is leading the charge to educate others about environmental responsibility in science.

Rachel Eason, chemistry major and president of Belhaven’s chapter of the SAACS, said, “Unless other people get on the green bandwagon, then future generations are going to pay for their laziness and irresponsibility. Our chapter plans on bringing high school students and others to our campus to show them experiments and teach them that green chemistry and science can be fun and environmentally good.”

Dr. Bishop agrees that good stewardship of the environment is another form of loving your neighbor. “I believe that the stewardship of our planet is part of our responsibility as chemist no matter what your religious affiliation, but as Christians we are particularly charged to care for each other, this world and all the living things in this world.”