Photo: Roshni Patel

Biology Major Roshni Patel is Awarded Scholarship by the National Science Foundation

The Science of Sustainability: Honors Student Attends Green Chemistry Conference

Sophomore at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences Explores Environmental Concerns

As an aspiring physician, Roshni Patel envisions herself contributing to the emerging field of green chemistry. The sustainable chemistry movement seeks to stop or minimize pollution at its source by developing new products and processes that reduce the use of hazardous substances.

Patel, a sophomore Honors student at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, was recently awarded a scholarship from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to attend the American Chemical Society's 16th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. The event attracted international researchers, scholars, and industry leaders. Patel was among 28 NSF Scholars nationwide–and the only Florida university student—invited to attend the conference held in June 2012 in Washington, D.C.

"I feel like I can incorporate many of the principles of green chemistry into my work as a future physician," said Patel, who is majoring in biology and pursing a minor in chemistry. She is also a member of NSU's Dual Admission Program for osteopathic medicine.

"Green chemistry looks at sustainability and addresses environmental issues and concerns," she said. "I'm very interested in incorporating these principles and technologies into my career. For instance, green chemistry is looking at ways to create more environmentally friendly pharmaceuticals and methods of disposal. That ties directly into what I want to do in the future."

"For an undergraduate, this is a high honor bestowed at a national level," said Song Gao, Ph.D., associate professor at the college, who also attended the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. "Attending such conferences always has a significant, positive impact on a student's academic growth and career development."

Topics of discussion included the design of safer chemicals and processes; ensuring safe and abundant drinking water; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; developing recyclable catalysts, developing bio-based chemicals and fuels; and developing green chemistry metrics for assessing sustainability.

NSF scholars also attended a special workshop that included lectures on green chemistry's approach to engineering, sustainable development, and international perspectives. They also explored special topics such as environmental signals and toxicology.

"We are very pleased that Roshni was able to rub shoulders with fellow student scholars, not only undergraduate but also graduate and postdoctoral, from schools such as Yale and Duke, at the conference and workshop," Gao said.

"One of the most important things I took away from the conference was that prevention is an important aspect that has been under-emphasized by science in the past. A lot of the speakers said that prevention seems like a simple idea, but it has been overlooked," Patel said.

Patel's interest in green chemistry began when she started working with other students on a research project about water contamination, under Gao's mentorship. In April 2012, she co-presented a poster titled "Human Derived Contaminants in Water Systems: Occurrence, Treatment, and Prevention" at the college's Undergraduate Student Symposium.

"My interest in chemistry and the negative health effects of potential environmental hazards sparked my interest in the topic of water contamination," Patel said. "During our literature review, it became obvious that things need to be done in Florida to protect the aquatic environment. A lot of the solutions for water contamination are provided through the field of green chemistry. The focus is on the prevention of harmful products, byproducts, and waste."

While green chemistry is a relatively new concept, it is rooted in classical fields such as synthetic organic chemistry, environmental chemistry, pharmaceutical science, and public health.

"In short, green chemistry is the design, development, and implementation of chemical products and processes to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of substances hazardous to human health and the environment," Gao said. "It represents one of the most current efforts in sustainable development and has the potential to help reinvigorate the national and global economy by creating green jobs."

"I believe the environment can benefit from the new viewpoints offered by green chemistry," Patel said. "I discussed my research project with attendees extensively. There was a lot of discussion at the conference about collaboration. We had student scholars from many different fields. It was interesting to see how what I took away from the conference was different from that of an engineering or business major.

"The conference inspired me to try new ideas and think about incorporating green chemistry when I'm developing new projects."