Bioneers 2010: John Warner on Making Better Chemists as Key to Green Chemistry (Video)

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Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

John Warner is one inspiring individual. He is the President and CTO of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry and the Beyond Benign Foundation, and is considered the co-founder of Green Chemistry. He was at the top of his game -- one of the most prolific creators of new molecules, award-winning, a leader in his field -- when his two-year-old son died of complications from a birth defect. At Bioneers, he told the audience that it was that event that made him pause and think, "What if it was something I touched that caused his birth defect? What if it was something I created." Now, Warner is still a leader, but in a different capacity. He pointed out that we're great at making chemicals, but terrible at making chemists. He has set out to turn that around, showing how we can educate chemists to create commercially viable but environmentally benign technologies. Warner stated that chemists have been so driven to force molecules to behave the way the chemist wants them to behave, but that can lead to some highly toxic side effects. Instead, green chemistry is more like "a molecule psychologist -- we put them on the couch and ask 'What would you like to do?'" Through this way of approaching a problem, green chemistry can come up with non-toxic, environmentally benign alternatives to the problematic substances we've created thus far. By changing the education that chemists receive in school to include more environmental sciences and toxicity coursework and by coming up with viable alternatives to the scary stuff currently on the market, we can eliminate the need for dreaming up new materials with deadly side effects.

Here is Warner's talk at Bioneers. It is funny, incredibly insightful, and will change the way you look at chemists.

John Warner: Intellectual Ecology from Bioneers on Vimeo.

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