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Dr. Jacqueline Bennett, SUNY Oneonta - Green Chemical Manufacturing


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Jacqueline Bennett of SUNY Oneonta explains her discovery of a novel and greener process of chemical production.

Jacqueline Bennett has been an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SUNY Oneonta since 2006. This year, the American Chemical Society's Committee on Environmental Improvement awarded Bennett the 2011 Award for Incorporating Sustainability into Chemistry Education for her work on imine synthesis. She holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Riverside.

About Dr. Bennett

Dr. Jacqueline Bennett - Green Chemical Manufacturing

Chemistry undeservedly gets a bad rap. The marketing industry has commandeered the word "chemical" to mean "toxic substance." They advertise products as "chemical-free" - which is impossible since EVERYTHING is made up of chemicals. Water and oxygen are both chemicals. As Paracelsus once stated, it's the dose that makes the poison. That said, "how" chemists "make" essential materials often involves exposure to high doses of relatively toxic compounds that are later disposed of as hazardous waste.

My research focuses on finding "greener" ways to make an important class of compounds known as imines, which are found everywhere from rust inhibitors to blockbuster drugs having household names like Zetia and Taxol.

When making such compounds, the biggest health hazard is the solvent, because it's the main component and it gets into the air easier than anything else, thus posing an inhalation hazard.

Traditional imine syntheses use solvents known to pose serious inhalation hazards. So, I chose to use a benign alternative solvent called ethyl lactate. It's a naturally occurring FDA-approved food additive that breaks down quickly and harmlessly in the environment. With it, I obtain, not only better results, but much more quickly and without the need for heat.

The first time I tried this method, I was shocked to see what looked like gold glitter form after just a few moments (my "comparison" method needed 24 hours of heat). Thinking it had to be a fluke, I tried it again (and again and again).

In fact, the reaction is so easy and quick, I've used it in presentations. There's this visceral "a-ha" moment because I'm "doing" chemistry that's safe, practical, and approachable to make these beautiful, glittery, appealing compounds. This kind of chemical "magic" can be an effective tool for inspiring our next generation of chemists. Plus, once we can mass-produce imines economically, we'll validate the effectiveness of green chemistry as a strategy for protecting our health and planet.

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