Chem 161, 162, 163

Choose your Topic for the Chemistry Research Project

Explore Environmental Justice Topics on the Web

Use the websites linked here to find the environmental justice topic you will research and present on this quarter. 

Spend time exploring so you find a topic that INTERESTS you AND MEETS THE CRITERIA for the project. 

The list below is divided by focus: the environmental issue, a potential solution to the issue, an activist committed to work on this issue. The first section lists four key websites you might start with. 

Key Starting Websites:

This example is from the website Green America and it shows how a general article on fossil fuels and the telecom industry can provide leads to organizations working on the issue. 

Green America article provides leads to environmental justice organizations

Environmental Issues:
Environmental Activists 
Environmental Solutions:

Topic Ideas from your Instructors

Be sure the topic you select passes the checklist!

For broad topics like air quality, try connecting them in a web search to words that capture environmental justice concepts. For instance:

  • environmental justice, environmental racism, environmental impact, pollution, etc.  AND
  • inequality, poverty, poor communities, communities of color, children, pregnancy, farm workers, racism, etc.
Environmental Issues

Water

  • Duwamish River pollution
  • Mining waste
  • Phosphates
  • Lead in drinking water
  • Lead in drinking water: 
    • Flint water crisis (sample topic - please do not select as your topic)
  • Washington DC water crisis
  • Schools around the country 

Climate Change Related Issues

  • Air quality: Atmospheric carbon dioxide and health
  • Surface ozone levels
  • Particulates (PM2.5 and PM 10)
  • Snow hydrology and water supply
  • Rising sea levels; displaced or threatened coastal communities
  • Ocean acidification
  • Human nutrition and food production
  • Forest fires
  • Impact of intense hurricanes 
    • Hurricane Harvey and other mega storms

Air pollution

  • Fossil fuel burning emissions 
    • oil, gas, coal fired plants in Detroit, Ohio, Chicago Memphis, Kansas City
  • particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5)
  • Ozone layer depletion: use of CFC's and HCFC's

Land Pollution

  • Lead contaminated land
    • ex: Walter L Cohen High School in New Orleans
  • Tacoma smelter plume and arsenic in community soil
  • Superfund sites in the U.S. (see link to EPA superfund site list on this page.)

Additional Environmental Issues

  • Cancer Alley, Louisiana
  • Plastics pollution (you cannot teach this using curriculum materials from this course; develop your own)
  • Fracking (extraction of methane gas)
  • Puyallup Tribe and new LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant in Tacoma
Environmental Solutions
  • Alternative energy sources (ex: nuclear, solar, geothermal, biomass, methane digesters)
  • Food (ex: reduced food waste, plant rich diet, regenerative agriculture, clean cookstoves, tropical staple trees)
  • Buildings and Cities (ex: insulation, LED lighting, landfill methane)
  • Materials (ex: refrigeration - CFC's and HCFC;s, bioplastics, alternative cement, recycling)
  • Future solutions (ex: direct air capture of CO2, hydrogen-boron fusion, living buildings, enhanced weathering of minerals, artificial leaf, microbial farming, industrial hemp)
  • Recycling lithium-ion batteries
  • Recycling plastics
Environmental Activists
  • Puyallup Tribal members
  • Greta Thunberg
  • Makasa Looking Horse
  • Elsa Mengistu
  • Mari Copeny
  • Jamie Margolin,
  • Xiye Bastida
  • Irsa Hirsi
  • Kevin Patel 
  • Peggy Shepard
  • Jeaninne Kayembe
  • Kallen Benson
  • Vic Barrett
  • John Paul Jose
  • Malala Yourafzai
  • Yacouba Sawadogo
  • Ernst Gotsch
  • Daniel Nocera
  • Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
  • Selina Leem
  • Anna Jane Joyner
  • Abby Barrows
  • Leng Ouch
  • Teresa Baker
  • Julia Butterfly Hill
  • and the list goes on….

Science and Environment Topic Databases

Search Tips

1. As shown in the image below, you can try a basic search, using a simple keyword, or you can click on Advanced Search to see more options. You can also choose to browse topics, clicking on "Browse Issues" in the banner below the search box. 

Click on images below to enlarge them.

Search screen showing how to browse issues/topics


2. Click on specific topics or categories, such as Global Change.

environmental science in context- browse topics


3. Note the different kinds of information you find. Academic sources may come in handy when you're looking for scholarship, but to help you generate ideas click on Reference and Case Studies.

environmental studies environmental justice


4. I selected Reference and found 96 article titles. I use this list two ways: 

  • Look over article titles for ideas, such as Third World Pollution
  • Open an article and skim to look for specific ideas and leads to resources at the end of the article. 

Reference for ideas


5. The excerpt below highlights a few topic ideas from the article on Third World Pollution. The article points to Bhopal India and Tijuana Mexico, as two examples I could research further to see if they would work for this assignment. 

Topic ideas from the article on Third World Countries

Quick Check: How is this topic an Environmental Justice topic? 

With some topics it may be evident that they are environmental justice topics, while with others you need to dig or get more specific. 

Use the Web to check.

  1. Type in an environmental justice concept, such as: "environmental justice" or "environmental racism" or "environmental injustice" or poverty or "poor communities" or a specific community you know has been impacted disproportionately, such as "tribal lands" or "native tribes" or "communities of color"
  2. Next to that, type in: AND your topic
  3. Look over the list of web sources you found. Open. Explore. Be able to answer the question: 
  • WHO is impacted by this environmental issue?
  • What makes this environmental issue a social justice issue? 
Google Web Search
Sample search on Flint water crisis:

Search terms: environmental justice AND flint water crisis

Notice that the article below specifies that the water crisis was an environmental injustice that impacted a poor community of color. 

Flint and Environmental Justice

Flint water crisis - environmental racism

Quick Check: Is there scholarship on my topic?

You will spend more time than this to choose sources for your research project, but for now, simply use the Holman Library One Search to search in all of our databases at once for scholarship on your topic.

1. Type in your topic. Use quotes for phrases. Keep it simple and connect your key ideas with AND or OR.

2. Limit your search to Peer Reviewed from the list of results. It's on the menu on the left. 

3. Try setting a date limit to 15 years for the moment.

4. Look over the titles and the journals the articles are published in. Do you see scholarship that looks relevant? You will need to find scholarship that helps you explain the science of your topic. 

Sample search of Flint water crisis

The first article is from a medical science perspective, while the second looks at whiteness and innocence through a social science lens. 

For this assignment, I would find the first article more relevant.

  • Click on an article title to learn more and to find Subject Terms for the topic. These are useful!

Flint water crisis scholarship in one search


To focus my search on a specific aspect of the Flint water crisis, I can:

  • Add a second keyword or phrase on the next line
  • Add a subject supplied by the database, as in the image below. That can be useful if I'm not sure what words to use.  
    • If I limit to Physical Science, for example, I will find 126 scholarly articles on the Flint water crisis and physical sciences. 

Flint  water crisis - Add a Subject

If I add a second keyword or keyword phrase, such as lead, I find fewer and more focused articles also. 

  • Experiment and persist! A lot of research is trying out different approaches to see what works best.

Checklist to Keep in Mind

Chemistry Research Project Checklist

Quarter-Long Sustainability
  • Does this topic interest you? What interests you about it?
Approach
  • Will you approach this by focusing on the issue, the solution, or the activist?
Environmental Justice 
  • What is the environmental justice issue?
  • What specific group or community is impacted? Remember, it won't work to abstractly write that climate change impacts us all. You need to identify a specific who. Look for issues that impact poor communities, communities of color, and/or disenfranchised or other communities without institutional power.
  • What is the impact of the issue on the community?
Chemistry 
  • What chemistry concept is key to understanding the environmental issue?
  • Is this chemistry concept connected to a topic taught in your class? If not, be sure to double check with your instructor to be sure it's appropriate for this project. If not, think about a different chemistry "angle" on this issue.
Scholarship 
  • You will use a range of reliable sources for this project. At least two of them need to be scholarly peer-reviewed sources, whether an original research study, theoretical analysis, or literature review. Test out your topic in our One Search by limiting to Peer Reviewed sources after you search. Can you find current scholarship on your topic? You will use scholarship as the scientific basis for your presentation research.

This guide is here to help you accomplish all of the above! Ask a librarian if you would like more help.

Search the Web for other ideas

Google Web Search

Search by environmental issue and/or community:

  • general keyword terms, such as "communities of color", "poor communities"
  • more specific keywords, such as "tribal communities", tribal lands", Navajo, farmworkers, Black communities, children, incarcerated people, "LatinX or Hispanic communities" 

Search by casting a wide net with the keywords:

  • "environmental justice" or "environmental racism" 

Explore organizations working on the issues:

  • "environmental justice" organizations
    • explore with a community in mind: AND Newark 

You might find it helpful to limit by domain type:

  • .org for not for profit organization. Many non-profit environmental and justice organizations are structured this way.
  • .gov for governmental agency or site.