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Spotlight: Greener Chem Labs

Spotlight on Greener Chem LabsJanuary 2008

An agreement signed by NJIT and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to produce better, safer and "greener" chemistry activities for high school laboratories resulting in a cleaner, sustainable environment. Working with three New Jersey high schools, yet to be identified, the university will seek to develop classroom experiments using microwave-induced reactions, rather than conventional chemistry practices. Program results will eventually be disseminated through an online manual. The manual will recap the benefits of microwave-assisted chemistry experiments in high schools and college-level chemistry laboratories.

Under the direction of co-principal investigators, NJIT professors Som Mitra (chemistry) and Daniel Watts (environmental protection), the university will spearhead a research, publishing and distribution process over the next two years to enable New Jersey high schools to promote faster, cleaner and less polluting chemistry lab techniques. The university will equip the three selected high schools with microwave reaction systems using standard off-the-shelf microwave ovens.

A major objective is to demonstrate to students early in their careers that the energy and material savings from green chemistry has great environmental value. NJIT professors expect that such ideas learned early will become part of the chemistry knowledge base for the students, and will be useful no matter what careers they eventually practice.

Efforts by NJIT will include promoting microwave technology for better, safer chemical reactions. Microwave-assisted chemistry uses the same basic principles as seen in heating in microwave ovens in homes. Microwave radiation causes some molecules to rotate or collide with other molecules, generating heat. Under optimum conditions, the heat is directly transferred to the reactants bringing about the reaction. For example, the contents heat up but the containers do not. This means that less energy is wasted.

NJIT researchers will also review all literature and previous work done in high schools and universities to determine how college and high school curricula might be enhanced by raising the awareness of sustainability and pollution prevention. NJIT will develop no fewer than three experiments suitable for the chemistry curriculum.

This project was undertaken in connection with a settlement of an enforcement action taken by EPA against NJIT.


  • Nicholas Tworischuk, senior vice president and assistant treasurer, NJIT, 973-596-5279 (work); 201-341-2878 (cell)
  • Jean Llewellyn, Executive Director, University Communications, 973-596-5546 (work); 201-264-6229 (cell)
  • Sheryl Weinstein, Director, Public Relations, 973-596-3436 (work); 973-650-6489 (cell)
  • Somentha Mitra, Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry, NJIT, 973-596-5611 (work); 908-698-3685 (cell)
  • Daniel Watts, Panasonic Endowed Chair of Sustainability and Executive Director, NJIT’s Otto H. York Center for Environmental Engineering and Science, 973-596-3465 (work); 732-939-9426 (cell)