A Schuylkill River Setting for Sustainable Chemistry Students

Upper School students in Heather Paul's Sustainable Chemistry course took to one of the city's main waterways last week for a hands-on approach to their studies.

Students participated in a guided kayak tour of the Schuylkill River oil refineries. Led by a representative from EDGE (End Dirty Gas Exploitation) Philly, the class rowed down the river to learn about the history and science of the watershed, with a focus on the impact of the local fossil fuel infrastructure, including the train yard, the gas works, and the oil refineries.

US Sustainable Chemistry Class Kayaking on the Schuylkill river

Heather shares, "Philadelphia has a long history of electricity generation from fossil fuels, and this kayak tour allowed the students to to get a close up look at the oil refineries and their impact on the surrounding areas, including the quality of the atmosphere and hydrosphere. On the river, you could see the quality of the water change the further towards the refineries we rowed, and you could get a sense of air quality just by how the odor changed moving further down the Schuylkill." Students will follow up the trip in the classroom with experiments to collect and analyze the air, water, and soil quality in different areas of Philadelphia.

Luc Santilli, grade 11, captured footage of the river tour with a GoPro. He says, "The kayaking trip was very inspiring, because we were able to be involved in the actual environment. This makes learning more meaningful than just a classroom setting. I feel very lucky that we had the opportunity to have this experience. It really brings sustainable chemistry to life!"


In Sustainable Chemistry, students explore the chemical reactions that describe energy generation and use, including energy obtained from renewable sources, fossil fuels, and nuclear reactions. They also investigate the environmental impact of our energy decisions through measurements of water and air quality SOIL. The course's field trips provide opportunities to collect water and air samples and to see green energy solutions being implemented in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.

In addition to Sustainable Chemistry, Heather Paul teaches Chemistry, Advanced Chemistry, and Chemistry and Art. She has been teaching at Friends Select School for six years, and previously taught at Villanova University. She received her B.S. from the University of Delaware and her M.S. from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.