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University of Victoria

Hands-on Learning: Students Push Boundaries of Green Chemistry with Pharos


Typically, chemistry and engineering curricula do not include courses in toxicology. However, human and environmental impacts of chemicals and materials are just as important as process efficiency. Pharos is a unique resource that both educators and industry professionals use to research the hazards associated with chemicals and materials. Educators can use Pharos in the classroom to teach practical toxicology, familiarizing students with a tool and hazard framework used by hundreds of major manufacturers to identify safer alternatives and ensuring students are well-equipped to lead these efforts when they enter the workforce.


Heather Buckley is a green chemist and civil engineering professor at the University of Victoria who believes that responsible development of greener technologies is a core component of improving human and environmental health. Professor Buckley teaches a Green Safe Water course where students research hazardous metal pollution in water, such as lead from batteries and tin stabilizers from plastics. The goal of this course is to expose students to pressing environmental health issues, present tools and resources to tackle the issues, and inspire them to find greener solutions. Professor Buckley challenges her students to study the properties of a chemical, identify its sources and understand its functions. The final leg of the project is a big ask — to propose interventions that will eliminate sources of these metals and prevent them from entering the drinking water and broader environment.


Professor Buckley directs her student to Habitable’s Pharos, a database with hazard and exposure information for 218,178 chemicals. Students can search for a chemical by its name or CAS number, and easily compare the health effects of different chemicals using standardized hazard levels. They can see what functions a chemical has and can even search by compound group (where chemicals with similar properties are grouped together). Through this course, Pharos arms students with a low cost tool that enables quick screening of chemicals and materials for environmental and human health concerns. Pharos is a solution these students can carry with them through their professional careers.