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Steven Couture will graduate from UMass Boston with a master's degree in chemistry in May. Image by: Harry Brett
December 29, 2017

UMass Boston graduate student receives American Chemical Society Award for green chemistry research

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  • Boston
Steven Couture one of four to receive CIBA travel award

Chemistry graduate student Steven Couture has received a $2,000 award to attend the American Chemical Society’s March conference in New Orleans. He’ll present about the green chemistry research that he is conducting in Professor of Chemistry Hannah Sevian’s research group.

Only four out of 45 applicants received the ACS Green Chemistry Institute’s 2017 Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry.

“Green chemistry is more than just reducing waste or making a reaction safer. Green chemistry is also about educating students that there can be more beneficial outcomes, less harmful impacts, and reduced risks when informed citizens use green chemistry principles to make decisions in daily life that rely on their chemistry knowledge,” Couture said.

Couture says he’s been interested in the impact of chemistry and human activities on the environment since he was an undergrad at Worcester Polytechnic. He began graduate work at UMass Boston in the fall of 2015.

Over the past 18 months, Couture took the lead in a project to develop and test a new green electrochemistry lab that reveals the “black box” of battery energy storage. The master’s student found overwhelming evidence that engagement with the lab led to increased chemistry learning and interest. He’s been working on other research related to chemistry education as well.

“Steve has been studying students’ epistemic games in chemistry, which are ways that students approach open-ended problems, such as how to identify chemical substances or deciding which fuel would be best to use in order to reduce environmental consequences. Such problems involve evaluation and decision making, which are critical to benefits-costs-risks thinking and sustainable action based on green chemistry. Steve’s work in this area holds great promise for helping teachers to recognize less and more sophisticated ways that students approach solving complex problems,” Sevian wrote in her nomination letter.

Couture has also taken a leadership role in the graduate student-led initiative New England Students and Teachers for Sustainability (NESTS). The goal is to improve knowledge about green chemistry practices and lab safety with colleagues at the university and local high school teachers through workshops and symposiums.

Before coming to UMass Boston, Couture worked in the pharmaceutical industry and was a high school chemistry teacher. He plans to return to the classroom after graduation in May.

“The areas of chemistry that I have been exposed to during my time here will influence what I teach and how I teach after graduating,” Couture said. “My current ideal position would be teaching high school chemistry at the local vocational school where I envision a focus on practical application of chemistry with an emphasis on sustainable and green practices.”

Undergraduates Klaudja Caushi and Florence Wanjiku will also be attending the ACS conference.

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