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Faculty Profile – Margaret Kerr

Professor of Chemistry Margaret Kerr, Ph.D., is an expert in curriculum development and implementation of green chemistry, which reduces the use or generation of hazardous substances during chemical processes. She has promoted green chemistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand and brought educators from that country to visit WSU. She has received a Fulbright Scholar grant to support university green chemistry curriculum development, K-12 outreach, and the creation and expansion of green chemistry networks in Southeast Asia.

Margaret KerrWhere did you grow up?

I was born in California and my family moved to Wyoming when I was 5. I graduated from high school there.

What led you to study chemistry?

I took a class in college that I enjoyed. I didn’t take chemistry in high school, believe it or not, so I didn’t know much about it when I took it randomly in college. I liked the logic of it and the ability to make cool molecules.

What led you to study “green,” or more environmentally friendly, chemistry and introduce it at Worcester State?

I was put in charge of the organic lab after one of my colleagues retired and I wanted to make some changes to make the lab experience safer for students and more applicable to real-life situations that students will encounter when they reach the professional realm. I am of the belief that all of our students, regardless of whether they become scientists or something else, will be asked to play a role in solving some of the big issues that we are facing today. I think that if we provide training and education in sustainability and green thinking, our students will be able to be the leaders in emerging fields of sustainability and related areas.

How is studying green chemistry preparing our students for jobs in the chemical field?

Green chemistry is not a specific field of chemistry, but more of a philosophical or ethical approach to how we do science as chemists. By providing training in the fundamentals of chemistry in addition to giving thought to how you would design a molecule to be less toxic or a process to be less polluting, we are adding value to the chemistry degree that a student uses to look for a job. Many companies have adopted green programs or sustainable development programs that need people who have a background in this area. As a department, we believe that we give a strong fundamental background in all of the fields of chemistry with a green component woven throughout. Green chemists have to be first and foremost good scientists.

What does the future hold for green chemistry?

People used to say that there would be a time when we would no longer need to distinguish between green chemistry and other chemistry. This has not really held true as most of us now think that because it is very difficult to make things green we will always need to think about how to make something greener when we design molecules. Because there is so much work to do, there should always be a need for chemists trained in green chemistry!

How often do you present your research on green chemistry?

I usually attend one to two national or international conferences every year and some additional regional speaking engagements. I just returned from speaking about our green program at WSU at the Green Chemistry in Education Workshop at the University of Oregon. Last fall I organized a symposium about green chemistry and gave a talk about my research at the 14th Asian Chemical Congress in Bangkok, Thailand.

Do you have any speaking opportunities coming up this academic year?

I’m planning on giving a talk about my research at the University of Maine (my alma mater) sometime this academic year. There are many opportunities to choose from!

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