Green Chemistry

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ATOM ECONOMY: A Measure of the Efficiency of a Reaction 


     Daryle Busch, president of the American Chemical Society said "Green chemistry represents the pillars that hold up our sustainable future.  It is imperative to teach the value of green chemistry to tomorrow's chemists.”

    Because green chemistry is rapidly becoming the wave of the future, we believe that it is very important that students are exposed to green chemistry in many courses across their chemistry curriculum.  These green chemistry modules were developed by a team of faculty members from the University of Scranton for the purpose of inserting green chemistry into specific courses encompassing the chemistry curriculum.  It is our hope that other instructors will use these modules as models for infusing green chemistry into their courses.  We encourage instructors to use, modify and copy them according to their needs for educational purposes, however any commercial use is prohibited unless permission of the authors is granted.  We ask that you let us know when and how you use them ( This will aid us in the assessment of the outcomes of this project.

    In order to use the modules we suggest that you first have your students read the Introduction to Green Chemistry and then the specific module for your course.  You may then want to discuss this material in class.  To aid you in presenting the material in class, each module is equipped with a set of PowerPoint slides.  You may want to have students make hard copies of the PowerPoint slides to aid in note taking.

    Although each module was developed for a particular course we encourage instructors to peruse all the modules and find ways to infuse additional green chemistry into all the courses you teach.  Other efforts to bring green chemistry into the classroom can be found at greenchemistry.html

    This module has been written primarily for use in the two semester organic chemistry sequence (both lecture and laboratory) traditionally encountered by students in the sophomore year.  The module uses examples of organic reactions and syntheses to illustrate the concept of atom economy.  However, atom economy is a simple concept that can be applied to any situation where a reaction and/or synthesis is encountered.  Thus this module can be adapted for use in courses such as general chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, polymer chemistry, environmental chemistry and industrial chemistry as well courses for non science majors. 
    In an organic chemistry lecture course this module can be inserted into a discussion when one first encounters a reaction.  Many organic books (designed for lecture) are written so that the first reaction encountered in detail is a nucleophilic substitution reaction.  We have thus used an example of nucleophilic substitution to begin the discussion of atom economy.  The discussion is continued by employing examples of elimination, addition and rearrangement reactions, followed by several syntheses to further demonstrate the concept of atom economy.  The instructor will probably want to discuss these additional illustrations of atom economy when one covers these types of reactions and when one encounters various examples of syntheses.  Alternatively one may want to cover all the illustrations of atom economy at one time when one gives an overview of the basis types of organic reaction.  The lecture instructor may want to focus simply on atom economy, leaving discussions of experimental atom economy and discussions involving percentage yield to the laboratory part of the course. 
    In an organic chemistry laboratory course this module can be used when the students encounter their first reaction.  Not only does the module introduce the concept of atom economy but it also provides instruction in the concept of percentage yield, and measuring the efficiency of a reaction by a combination of the atom economy and the percentage yield.

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