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Accepted Manuscript

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Journal or Book Title

Journal of Chemical Education




The flow of materials and energy through society is an integral but poorly visible element of global sustainability agendas such as the Planetary Boundaries Framework and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG). Given that the primary activities of chemistry are to analyze, synthesize, and transform matter, the practice of chemistry has a great deal to contribute to sustainability science, which in turn should play an increasingly important role in reshaping the practice of chemistry. Success in integrating sustainability considerations into the practice of chemistry implies a substantial role for chemistry education to better equip students to address the sustainability of earth and societal systems. Building on the framework of the IUPAC Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education (STICE) project, we develop approaches to using systems thinking to educate students about the molecular basis of sustainability, to assist chemistry to contribute meaningfully and visibly toward the attainment of global sustainability agendas. A detailed exemplar shows how ubiquitous coverage in general chemistry courses of the Haber–Bosch process for the synthesis of ammonia could be extended using systems thinking to consider the complex interplay of this industrial process with scientific, societal, and environmental systems. Systems thinking tools such as systems thinking concept map extension (SOCME) visualizations assist in highlighting inputs, outputs, and societal consequences of this large-scale industrial process, including both intended and unintended alterations to the planetary cycle of nitrogenous compounds. Strategies for using systems thinking in chemistry education and addressing the challenges its use may bring to educators and students are discussed, and suggestions are offered for general chemistry instructors using systems thinking to educate about the molecular basis of sustainability.


This document is the Accepted Manuscript version of a Published Work that appeared in final form in Journal of Chemical Education, copyright © American Chemical Society after peer review and technical editing by the publisher. To access the final edited and published work see DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00390. Posted with permission.

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American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.



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Published Version