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New Green Chemistry Science Projects—Sustainable Science for Students

With Earth Day and discussion of sustainability in mind, introduce students to the principles of green chemistry. With these new science projects, students can explore sunscreens, detergents, biofabrics and more with green chemistry principles in mind. From making kombucha leather seaweed fabric to using enzyme-based detergents, see how green chemistry can make a difference!

New green chemistry science projects! - Image of biofabric being removed from a hoop where it was made

Science Projects that Use Green Chemistry

Talking with students about sustainability, conservation, and ways to help protect our planet is always important, and students can do a broad range of experiments related to these issues and Earth Day. The cutting-edge field of green chemistry offers a new framework for students and new angles for experimentation and individual science projects.

Students interested in sustainability and making choices that are environmentally conscious can experiment with science projects that examine chemical processes involved in the production (and use) of everyday items like sunscreens, laundry detergents, and fabrics. Looking at these products and industries with the "twelve principles of green chemistry" in mind, students can assess and identify problems in traditional approaches and explore alternatives that are more sustainable, safer, and more eco-friendly.

The five projects highlighted below are new additions to the Green Chemistry area at Science Buddies.

New Science Projects in the Green Chemistry Area

  1. 1. Seaweed Fabric

    In the Make Sustainable Fabrics from Seaweed project, students learn about the environmental impact of the textile industry. Both natural and synthetic fibers may have negative environmental impact. Are biofabrics made from biopolymers derived from living organisms such as seaweed or bacteria a functional and sustainable alternative? The idea of using fabric made from seaweed or food waste (like eggshells and coffee grounds) may seem surprising, but this green chemistry approach may have eco-friendly advantages, including using less water and not using harmful chemicals. In this science project, students experiment by making biofabrics from alginate (seaweed). By creating multiple samples with different amounts of glycerin in the recipe, students experiment to see how the properties of the fabric, including its tensile strength, change. Which recipe will create the most functional fabric alternative?


  2. 2. Kombucha Leather

    In the Grow Vegan Kombucha Leather project, students learn about the production of leather and some of the ways in which the leather industry poses environmental and sustainability risks. They learn about vegan biofabrics as a possible sustainable alternative and make their own leather from kombucha. In kombucha, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) is added to sweetened tea. As the kombucha ferments, a biofilm (the SCOBY pellicle) is produced. Can this biofilm be harvested and used as a leather alternative? In this project, students grow a kombucha biofilm at different sugar concentrations and investigate to see how the sugar concentration in the fermentation process changes the kombucha leather's material properties.

    Kombucha biofilm from green chemistry kombucha leather science project

  3. 3. Sunscreen Effectiveness and Solubility

    How effective are sunscreens at protecting the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays? Are sunscreens also friendly to marine habitats and reef-safe? In the Testing Sunscreen Effectiveness and Water Solubility intermediate science project, students do experiments to see how well different sunscreens block UV light and to see whether the sunscreens come off in water, which can put harmful chemicals into waterways. Students use a UV meter to test physical and chemical sunscreens to see which ones protect best against sunburn. What are the differences in how these types of sunscreen protect against harmful UV light?

    Sunscreen on a back with the letters SFP

  4. 4. How Much Sunscreen Ends Up in the Water

    What happens when you put on sunscreen and then play in the water? Does any of the sunscreen come off in the water? Are the ingredients in sunscreen safe for water habitats? In the How Eco-Friendly is Your Sunscreen? advanced science project, students explore the ingredients and differences in how physical (or mineral) and chemical sunscreens work. Is one type of sunscreen more reef-friendly than the other? Students use a series of dilutions and a UV sensor to determine how much of a sunscreen's UV-absorbing or -reflecting chemicals end up in the water.

    Sunscreen bottle on sand

  5. 5. Enzyme Detergents?

    In the The Cold Wash Challenge: Testing How Well Enzymes Work in Laundry Detergents project, students explore differences between laundry detergents with enzymes and laundry detergents without enzymes. Detergents with enzymes, also called biological detergents, can be used in cold water, which helps conserve much of the energy associated with washing clothes. After learning about surfactants, biological and non-biological detergents, and the role of temperature in removing stains, students experiment with both types of detergents to see how effective they are on stains in both hot and cold water. Are enzyme detergents and color water as effective as traditional non-enzymatic detergents and hot water?

    Stained and washed cotton squares from laundry detergent science experiment

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