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Chemistry student group earns chemical society’s high honor

Northeastern University’s student chapter of the American Chemical Society has been designated as “outstanding,” the highest honor bestowed upon a university by the world’s largest scientific society. The student chapter also received the ACS Green Chemistry Award. Together, the two awards recognize Northeatern’s dedication to academic excellence, mentorship and sustainability.

While more than 200 United States universities award doctoral degrees in chemistry, fewer than a dozen of these received the distinction.

“The awards reflect the broader aims of the department and the university,” said Graham Jones, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

The number of chemistry majors has quintupled over the last decade, growing from approximately 40 students in 2003 to roughly 200 in 2012. Opportunities for undergraduates have grown in kind.

Christine Dunne, student president of Northeastern ACS, noted that the biweekly chapter meetings consistently draw about 50 students. But the group’s exceptional mentorship program and regular social events make it more than an academic society for Northeastern’s undergraduate chemistry students.

Jones explained that it can be difficult for undergraduate student groups to thrive in research-based institutions like Northeastern. But he noted the university offers a unique opportunity for undergraduates to participate in diverse, top-tier research projects while also taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the ACS chapter.

Northeastern’s student chapter of the ACS was among some 55 chapters that received the scientific society’s Green Chemistry award, up from 46 from a year ago. This growth reflects the society’s focus on environmentally sustainable laboratory practices and educational programs.

Northeastern is also one of 20 schools that will participate in the society’s first green chemistry accreditation process in 2013. The university’s chemistry department is currently developing new curricula, which incorporates green chemistry into the standard classroom and laboratory programs. With the help of two ACS student members, Justin Roberts and Connor Houghton, Jones and other faculty members are outlining a series of experiments and lesson plans that focus on sustainable chemistry and the toxicological impact of various chemical compounds. The group plans to pilot these new components this spring, with the hope of implementing them into the standard curriculum by fall 2013.

“This is an example of how the students can inspire us,” Jones said. “A large number of freshmen arrive at Northeastern with environmental and sustainability issues on their mind. How we then harness that enthusiasm in the chemistry department presents a clear opportunity for student engagement and the outcome speaks volumes.”

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