A new formula for freshman chemistry
“We need to take care of the planet … With a little more work, you can make an experiment environmentally friendly, use less toxic chemicals, and be just as effective.”
More than half of Berkeley’s undergraduates use the College of Chemistry’s teaching laboratories, but in 2008, the facilities were woefully outdated. Then-dean Richard Mathies aimed to fix this problem. At the same time, a handful of chemistry faculty were eager to reinvent the freshman lab curriculum — emphasizing sustainability and student engagement.
These ambitions came together thanks to an outpouring of support from students, alumni, faculty, and friends. Within four years, the college raised $11 million, including a $3.5 million gift from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation and $5 million in matching funds from the chancellor.
To date, the college has renovated 10 teaching labs, opened a state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation facility, and completely reimagined 30 freshman lab experiments, with more coming. It will soon cut the ribbon on a new advising center.
From making biofuels to creating non-toxic children’s toys, the new curriculum immerses students in sustainable methods and ideas, while enabling them to “get closer to how science is really done,” says lecturer Michelle Douskey.
The students seem to agree. Wrote one in a recent survey, “As a result of this class, chemistry is much more real to me.”