Changing a 150-Year-Old Approach
Some green initiatives are clear. Skip the plastic straws, save the oceans. Others are more complex, like when you’re trying to overhaul a centuries-old system of conducting chemical reactions.
But according to Wilfried Braje, Ph.D., it doesn’t have to be that complicated. A senior principal research scientist at AbbVie, he believes finding ways to reduce waste and be more environmentally friendly should be second nature for scientists, especially those dedicated to improving lives.
That’s why Braje and his fellow scientists at AbbVie’s labs in Ludwigshafen, Germany were excited to discover a simple but elegant solution to a historic problem: a technology that significantly improves an already revolutionary change to a 150-year-old scientific method. Here, Braje explains how taking advantage of “nature’s favorite solvent” can benefit the environment and help speed up the pace of scientific research.
First, can you explain the problem? Why does chemistry need to “go green”?Wilfried Braje, Ph.D.: When I explain what I do to friends, I say I see myself as a “scientific cook” with the lab being my kitchen. Think about making a cake - you take various ingredients like oil, sugar and flour, and then see how well all those ingredients react with each other, by baking it (or my preference, by licking the spoon).
Likewise, in science, we’re trying to determine if we have the right ingredients for a possible drug candidate when conducting a chemical reaction. For more than 150 years, scientists have been carrying out those chemical-reaction “recipes” in organic solvents, derived from mineral oil. These organic solvents are expensive, toxic and often flammable, but that’s how it was always done and it worked. The organic solvent-based science enables many reactions that have been used to develop breakthrough medicines.