Teacher collecting water samples

Green Chemistry (NSF)

In 2015 and 2016, Dr. Suzanne Nesmith, associate dean in the Baylor School of Education, spearheaded the educational component of a collaborative National Science Foundation grant, with approximately $72,000 in annual funding. The project focused on "green chemistry" and the testing of commercial products and water sources.

During the summers of 2015 and 2016, teachers from Texas and Washington state came to the Baylor campus for a two-week summer professional development experience designed by Nesmith, associate dean and associate professor of elementary math education; Melissa Mullins, environmental education specialist; and Dr. Bryan Brooks, professor of environmental science and biomedical studies, as part of a larger project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Dr. Bryan Brooks & Dr. Suzanne NesmithAs of May 2018, the project had resulted in three published research articles, co-authored by Nesmith, about the project, with more manuscripts in development. These articles appeared:

  • Green Chemical Letters and Reviews: “The Safer Chemical Design Game: Gamification of Green Chemistry and Safer Chemical Design Concepts for High School and Undergraduate Students”
  • Toxicological Sciences: “The Molecular Design Research Network: An Overview”
  • Journal of Chemical Education: “Social and Environmental Justice in the Chemistry Classroom”

Baylor’s involvement started with Brooks (pictured with Nesmith), who is co-principal investigator with colleagues from Yale University, George Washington University and the University of Washington on the $4.5 million NSF grant. The group is working on a molecular design project — Molecular Design Research Network (MoDRN; modrn.yale.edu) — employing “green chemistry” to identify the attributes of molecules that make chemicals toxic and to develop new molecules with fewer detrimental attributes for public health and the environment.

The project includes a strong educational element designed to influence everyone from chemical company executives to high school students and make sure the research has impact.

The 12 teachers, selected through a competitive application process, work in multi-disciplinary teams, spending one week in a Baylor laboratory, where they conducted inquiry-based experiments to test consumer products for environmental toxicity. “They use different dilutions of solutions, test for pH levels and dissolved oxygen, and introduce daphnia (small aquatic crustaceans) to test for toxicity of cleaning products by observing the effects on the organisms,” Nesmith said. At the end of the week, the teachers present their findings.

During the second week, the teachers worked at the Baylor Research Innovation Collaborative (BRIC) labs of the Region 12 Educational Service Center, where Region 12’s Judy York, Nesmith and Mullins lead them in developing lesson plans based on the previous week’s learning. Nesmith conducted pre- and post-professional development surveys, and, as the teachers implement the plans in their classrooms, Nesmith visits to evaluate the overall impact of the experience. Eventually, the teacher-developed lessons will be included in the educational materials on the MoDRN website.