Chemistry and the Environment

Amy Shachter, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Santa Clara University

Chemistry and the Environment uses environmental problems facing the campus and surrounding community, such as air and water quality or recycling policies, to teach basic chemistry. In this laboratory course, students engage in community-based research projects that allow them to put their science learning to immediate use in improving the campus  environment.

The basic science covered in the course includes the chemical composition of the atmosphere, basic chemical reactions, such as combustion and photochemical processes, and the stiochiometry of reactions. This knowledge is then linked to public policy questions through a consideration of air and water quality. A discussion of smog, local air quality, and pollution regulations opens up a wider examination of the environmental, health, and economic effects of smog in a chemical context (e.g. ozone as an "oxidizer" of lungs, leaves, and paint). A discussion of acid rain contextualizes the study of acids, bases, and buffers and leads to a consideration of energy production as a major cause, and the environmental technologies that can be used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. In this way, science content is linked directly to issues of immediate concern in the everyday lives of students. Students in the class work in groups to develop and implement a campus or community based Environmental Resource Assessment project for which they collect data, develop hypotheses, design experiments, and develop recommendations. Past projects have included an analysis of the effectiveness of home water filters, an examination of the 7 relationship between the presence of semi-conductors in Silicon Valley and heavy metal contamination in the campus drinking water, an assessment of automobile pollution generated by daily commutes by students at Santa Clara University, and an exploration of the impact that electricity deregulation has had on the campus since it was implemented in the state of California in 1998.

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