Chemistry and biochemistry professor Bruce Lipshutz received the 2011 Presidential Green Chemistry Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency during a ceremony on June 20 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C.

The EPA created the award to recognize innovative and widely applicable chemical technologies that reduce pollution and selected Lipshutz — one of five recipients and the only winner from academia — for his development of an eco-friendly surfactant allowing transition-metal catalysis reactions to occur in water at room temperature. This innovation will allow chemical industries to synthesize new compounds without the need for heating and cooling or organic solvents hazardous to the environment.

According to Lipshutz, the surfactant TPGS-750-M marks a departure from previous innovations in the field through its use of the hydrophobic water effect and vitamin E to enable metal-catalyzed reactions using water at room temperature.

“I’m at least 10-20 years early on the front because people are used to 50 years of sophisticated organic chemistry,” Lipshutz said. “Instead of thinking traditionally, let’s use water. Let’s change the rules and play like nature does chemistry.”

Lipshutz said the implications of his revolutionary surfactant are significant due to their effects on major industrial processes such as in the pharmaceutical industry that can require 50-100 kilograms of waste to make 1 kilogram of drugs. Additionally, TPGS-750-M reduces safety concerns including toxicity and workers’ safety since it is environmentally innocuous and can be consumed.

The surfactant is the result of the extensive work and involvement of his research team of graduate students and colleagues, Lipshutz said.
“It was successful because of all the spectacular students,” Lipshutz said. “Ideas are cheap; it takes the students to make things happen.”

Former UCSB graduate student Benjamin Taft, who pushed the department’s research toward green chemistry in 2007, said one of the project’s biggest challenges was reaching beyond the boundaries of traditional chemistry and learning fundamental science most universities do not teach.

“Early on, we received a lot of criticism from our peers, related to the green nature of our methods,” Taft said. “So it certainly feels good to be chosen for such a prestigious award in the green chemistry field. I’m very happy for professor Lipshutz; he deserves to be recognized on a national level for contributing to green chemistry.”

According to Subir Ghorai, former UCSB postdoctoral project researcher, the award also serves as another step toward increasingly eco-friendly chemistry nationwide. Ghorai said the award directs attention to the field and its potential for solving environmental and societal problems.

“The birth of green chemistry is very new, thus, the award means a lot in its field,” Ghorai said. “It is a big reason to motivate new chemists to work in this field and give them a reason to think for our universe.”