Like most high schoolers, I looked at the age 16 as an opportunity for seeking a job and getting a taste for my own freedom. It was always a dream of mine to work at Nielsens Frozen Custard, but my parents weren't too keen on the idea. "If you're going to work a job, at least work at a place that will help you develop in your career," my Mother would say. I mean, what could be better than eating free frozen custard all day?! As much as I hate to admit it, my Mother had a good point. If there was anything I loved more than frozen custard, it was science.
One of my best friends was applying for a high school summer outreach research program at the University of Utah and had encouraged me to do the same. Naturally, I thought this was a great idea as, being the high schooler I was, it would be REALLY awesome to be in a program with my best friend. Of course, I was certain I would be rejected because I was a total loser and the program sounded amazing. Amazing and loser don't go together, right?
Long story short, this is how I landed my first job in a really sweet research lab. As I continued loving one research job after the next, I couldn't help noticing the irony in how much materials went to waste. I mean, as scientists, aren't we supposed to be contributing to the greater good? This got me thinking about green laboratory practices. When I say this, what I am really referring to is how to conduct research in a more sustainable, resourceful manner. Some questions that came to mind:
- What resources go into the equipment and materials we use in the lab?
- What is the percentage of materials used that can be re-used or recycled?
- What is the amount of energy it takes to keep an average lab running?
- What are the downstream impacts of the chemicals used by a lab after disposal?
- How much money can be saved by following through on greener lab practices?
Harvard University presents some solutions:
Fortunately, I'm not the only one who has thought about this. In the last seven years following my first job, many advances have been made by research institutions and universities to emphasize the importance of green laboratory practices. There is even a new certification system called LEED that many new buildings are following to ensure they being as least wasteful as possible, especially regarding research facilities.
If you're working in a lab, considering working in a lab, or know someone who does, here are some very helpful tips on how to be "greener":
- Green Laboratory evaluation
- General laboratory practices
- Saving energy and money
- Example of getting your lab Green Certified
Stay hungry, stay green!