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Being green

By From the Lowell Sun


LOWELL -- U2's front man Bono has (PRODUCT) RED. Hollywood heavyweights like Tom Hanks, Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz have the ONE Campaign. Now, the Revolving Museum's Jerry Beck has green chemistry.

Beck, along with John Warner and Amy Cannon, who are professors at UMass Lowell, touched down in Cape Town, South Africa, on Jan. 16 to meet with about 50 scientists from all over the African continent. They weren't there to go on a safari or to escape the bitter breezes here in Greater Lowell and bask in the glow of the blazing sun. The trio had one thing on their agenda: the environment.

Green chemistry is the process and philosophy of eliminating the use or generation of hazardous substances in the manufacturing of chemical products. Warner is a pioneer in the field, whose mission is to invent environmentally safe products through an environmentally safe process. Warner's implementation of this revolutionary theory is to expose scientists from developing countries early in their careers to the principles of green chemistry.

"Basically, all the products we use day to day are created by a chemist," explained Cannon. "Catching them (the scientists) early on gets them trained to think in this mindset from the beginning. The idea around bringing this to Africa is that there are so many developing countries. We're giving them the tools to create a sustainable society without destroying the environment."

About a year ago, Warner envisioned a conference bringing together the science and the art worlds in order to create a balance in finding ways to improve the quality of living in Africa and to help Africans create and maintain sustainable societies. With funding from many different companies interested in green chemistry, Warner received enough money to fly the entire delegation to Cape Town and pay their board as well.

"The point was for them to look at the environment around which they live. What indigenous plants and minerals can help with their economic development? Can they make plastics, vaccines for HIV and malaria?" Warner said.

"Right now they are dependent on external things. Part of green chemistry is to become self-sufficient."

So how does the artistic director from the eclectic downtown Lowell museum fit in with chemists, molecular structures and plastic engineering?

Warner chose Beck to bridge the gap between art and science. The general public may not be able to tell you how a carcinogen affects the ozone layer. They can, however, look at a piece of art that may pique their interest into researching more about it.

"Art plays a role in communication, considering that a problem in Western society is science illiteracy. This is a way for those who suffer from hazardous materials to learn more about their meaning," said Warner.

Beck was humbled and energized to be able to use his artistic vision to help enlighten people about their role in caring for Earth. Beck and local South African artists talked of collaborating on public art projects, marketing campaigns and product designs.

"I'm psyched to see how they appreciate the sensibility in the work we bring to the table. It will greatly benefit not just Cape Town, but the whole continent," Beck said.

Beck is planning on launching a series of public art projects in Cape Town just before the city hosts the World Cup in 2010. One of his visions is to create a mobile home made entirely of products created through the principles of green chemistry.

"Everyone has a role to play," Warner said.

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