Natalia Manousi is an analytical chemist in Greece researching new ways to reduce the environmental impact of her field. She explains what this involves and why it’s so important.
Green chemistry, or sustainable chemistry, is an area of science focused on designing products and processes to minimize the use or creation of hazardous substances, which in my current research includes hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents. My work is in Green Analytical Chemistry, an important subfield of this. As a part of my Ph.D. project I am working to develop novel environmentally friendly techniques for sample preparation - one of the most challenging steps in analytical chemistry due to the amount of organic solvent required.
Sample preparation is necessary in order to make possible the analysis of environmental, biological, pharmaceutical, and food samples. Currently, analytical chemists use extraction techniques that consist of numerous difficult steps and can be harmful for the environment, since they require a high consumption of organic solvents which must be disposed of, often through incineration. Reduction in the consumption of these hazardous chemicals would be extremely beneficial and could have a great impact in our world. Nowadays, a plethora of alternative green microextraction and miniaturized extraction techniques are available, along with use of greener solvent alternatives which help to reduce harm for both humans and the environment.
As well as taking inspiration from other people in my field of environmentally friendly or so-called ‘green’ chemical analysis, I’m also inspired by chemists in areas such as polymers, organic chemistry, material science, inorganic chemistry, etc., who aim to develop novel materials and sorbents to enhance the efficiency of green sample preparation techniques. But my biggest inspiration is the thought of being able to contribute — even a little — to the protection of the environment and people's lives in general.
Q: What kind of mindset do you need to achieve the Next Great Impossible?
A: In order to achieve my Next Great Impossible, I strongly believe that an ecological mindset is required. With this mindset, I can focus on developing new chemical strategies that are not harmful for the environment. Adopting the 12 principles of Green Chemistry is an important part of this mindset and they are required to make our world safer.