Thailand names new green chemistry lab for Ken Doxsee

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UO's Ken Doxsee conducts green chemistry experiment for his hosts in Thailand
UO's Ken Doxsee conducts green chemistry experiment for his hosts in Thailand

What began with a visit from a dignitary at the UO has led to a lab named in the honor of a UO faculty member and administrator.

University of Oregon chemistry professor Ken Doxsee visited Thonburi, Thailand, in December to speak and perform experiments at the grand opening of a facility named in his honor – Assumption College’s Doxsee Green Chemistry Laboratory.

Doxsee started teaching at the UO in 1989 and also serves as UO associate vice provost for academic affairs.

He began his work with green chemistry in Thailand in 2006, when Thai Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol came to Eugene on an official state visit. A key part of her visit was the announcement of an expansion for the UO's Distance Learning Program – originally started in 1996 for teachers of English as a second language – to include physics/mathematics and green chemistry.

Doxsee decided then to focus on the development of a green chemistry laboratory curriculum for high school students, to be introduced through distance learning technologies to educators throughout Thailand.

Doxsee believes that focusing on educators guarantees maximum impact. "If we teach a teacher, how many students will that teacher teach?" he says. "If we teach 100 teachers, the numbers start to be staggering."

Doxsee snips the ribbon at the lab's opening ceremonyFollowing several introductory web-based sessions, Doxsee traveled to Bangkok to present an address at a chemistry conference and found himself seated next to Abdulaziz Alnajjar, president of the Kuwait Chemical Society. After hearing Doxsee’s green chemistry pitch, Alnajjar asked Doxsee to develop a workshop to be presented in Kuwait.

Recruiting his long-term Mexican colleague and collaborator Jorge Ibañez, a chemical educator at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Doxsee developed a curriculum for the three-day Kuwait City workshop. The session was presented in March 2009, bringing the concepts and practice of green chemistry to some 60 Kuwaiti high school teachers.

With a relevant and reliable experimental curriculum in hand, Doxsee offered six live-web workshop sessions, totaling 15 hours of instruction, to teachers throughout Thailand. Taking advantage of the distance learning network overseen by the Thai Distance Learning Foundation, those sessions provided direct two-way communication with teachers at two sites in Thailand – one in Bangkok, the other in Hua Hin – and were simultaneously carried live to thousands of other schools. Rebroadcasts of the workshop sessions brought them to viewing audiences throughout Southeast Asia and southern China.

Following this workshop series, Doxsee was introduced to Wetchaiyan “Jay” Jaturas, director of the English Language Program at Assumption College – Thonburi (ACT), one of 16 K-12 schools in Thailand’s Assumption College system. ACT’s enthusiasm for pioneering the introduction of a green chemistry curriculum led to two subsequent visits to Thailand, during which Doxsee and Jaturas met with numerous influential scholars and administrators – from the head of the Thai Distance Learning Foundation to the Grand Chamberlain of the Royal House of Siam – and received enthusiastic endorsement of the effort.

During a meeting with Brother Chamnan Laoruckphon, Director of ACT, Doxsee and Jaturas were delighted to hear the educator propose the construction of a green chemistry lab on the ACT campus. A promising site was identified, in the heart of campus and several feet above ground level (an important consideration given the devastating floods that had inundated much of Thailand, including the ACT campus, only a year earlier).

Doxsee with the green chemistry lab's advocatesArmed with a tape measure, note pad and pencil, the three quickly sketched several lab designs, and construction began a few months later. As the lab took form, plans were laid for a grand opening ceremony in December 2013.

Shortly before the event, Doxsee received a call from Thailand, informing him that ACT wished to honor his contributions by naming the lab after him.

“I hesitated, as the project had never been about me, but rather about the students,” Doxsee says.

But ACT was insistent. On Doxsee’s seventh trip to Thailand, he witnessed the grand opening of his namesake lab. Following speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Doxsee performed several simple, green experiments for the 60 to 70 dignitaries who had traveled from schools and universities from throughout Thailand for the occasion.

In an interview broadcast on ACT’s on-campus television program, Doxsee was asked, “What is your personal motto?” His reply: “Make a difference.”

Visits to Assumption College campuses in Sriracha and Ubon Ratchathani are already generating considerable interest in replicating the green curriculum at those locations. There are also expectations that the ACT green lab will serve as an international resource for the dissemination of green chemistry to teachers throughout the 15-country Federation of Asian Chemical Societies.

Doxsee has reason to believe he really is making a difference.

- by Katherine Cook, Public Affairs Communications intern