CENTREVILLE — Last February, Washington College senior Ellie Byers interned with Sarah Lipchock at the Gunston School in Centreville and worked with 10th-grade students to test a lab she designed for her senior capstone experience — a green chemistry experiment involving blue cheese slurries and biomimicry.

According to a news release from Gunston, Byers recently got in touch with Lipchock to send an article and lab based on her SCE that was published in the most recent issue of Chemistry Solutions, a peer-reviewed periodical from the American Association of Chemistry Teachers.

The article was “A Green Chemistry Guided-Inquiry Lab: Designing Biomimetic Songbird Preen Oil from Waste Cooking Oil” by Eleanor (Ellie) Byers and Washington College professor Anne Marteel-Parrish.

“I want to thank you again for all your help as I was interning at Gunston and your openness to trialing my SCE in the spring. I am halfway through my student teaching and master’s program and I often draw from my experiences at Gunston,” said Byers, who graduated WC in the spring of 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and is currently working toward a Master’s of Education in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland.

“Byers’s SCE project aligned perfectly with some of Gunston’s key initiatives with regard to educating for sustainability and Mind Brain Education,” Lipchock said in the release. “As part of her internship, Byers read ‘Neuroteach: Brain Science and The Future of Education’ and I was really impressed with her ability to internalize MBE strategies and help guide students as learners in my classroom. She connected with students of all levels and they really enjoyed learning about biomimicry in a hands-on way.”

Green chemistry asks not just “What can I do with chemistry?” but also “How can I do it in the most sustainable way?”

Last fall, Lipchock’s honors chemistry class completed a green chemistry lab. So at the time of Byers’ activity, students were already familiar with the 12 principles of green chemistry, the release states.

“Green chemistry is a relatively new field in chemistry and is not covered by textbooks or as part of the national high school standards,” Lipchock said, “but it serves as a great real-world application for students and it dovetails nicely with Gunston’s goals for educating for sustainability.”

According to the article’s summary, “in this guided-inquiry lab, students will design and test a procedure reacting waste cooking oil in a blue cheese slurry to create a substance that mimics songbird preen oil, which is both antibacterial and hydrophobic. Students will convert the fatty acids in waste oil to methyl ketones, thought to be the principal antibacterial component of preen oil, using the P. roqueforti mold found in blue cheese. Students will expand their knowledge of biomimicry, inherent properties of preen oil, and chemical synthesis by applying the principles of green chemistry. They will also assess their own process through higher-order problem solving and building on their scientific research skills.”

“Adding this activity allowed students to see the green chemistry principles in action and provided a tangible application for the concepts we had learned. Having them design their own experiment to use repurposed cooking oil from the Washington College dining hall made those sustainability principles stick in a way that reading an article or watching a video cannot. Guided-inquiry and real world applications are great examples of MBE strategies that help students be more effective learners,” Lipchock said.

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