Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Emerging Investigator Series: Briana Aguila

Briana Aguila is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. After completing her undergraduate studies in Chemistry at the University of Florida, Briana earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of South Florida under Prof. Shengqian Ma studying “Functional Porous Materials: Applications in Environmental Sustainability”.  During her Ph.D. Briana was an intern at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and worked on metal-organic frameworks for nuclear waste remediation under research scientist Dr. Praveen Thallapally. As Briana began her career as an Assistant Professor, she was able to travel back to PNNL through the Visiting Faculty Program and worked alongside research scientist Dr. Quin Miller on carbon mineralization in basalt rock.

Read Briana’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: kinetics of diopside reactivity for carbon mineralization in mafic–ultramafic rocks” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Kinetics of Diopside Reactivity for Carbon Mineralization in Mafic-Ultramafic Rocks. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My first publication in graduate school was from an internship at PNNL working on the removal of Cs and Sr from nuclear waste using a functionalized metal-organic framework (Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 5940-5942). I am grateful for the mentorship I had from my host, Dr. Praveen Thallapally, and my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Shengqian Ma, for the research opportunities and helping produce a publishable piece of work. Throughout my career, I have always been interested in materials for environmental applications. Now, I am eager to be delving into geochemistry and how we can use minerals found in nature to solve environmental problems. Transitioning into the mentor role, I also want to be including my undergraduate researchers so they can experience the writing process. I look back and laugh, as one of the reasons I went into chemistry was because I was much more math and science focused with little enjoyment in writing; how the times have changed!

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Currently, I am most excited about studying new minerals and how they behave once injected with CO2. A better understanding of the fundamentals at the nano-scale is the first step in moving forward with putting carbon storage technologies at the forefront of creating a carbon-negative industrial sector. I am also excited about recruiting new students who can get hands-on experience with this type of research at the undergraduate-level.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

I think the most challenging part of most research is putting what you learned at the bench and applying it to the real world. As we learn the fundamentals of how these minerals are transforming into carbonates, this needs to be supplemented with large-scale studies in the basalt rock, similar to PNNL’s Wallula Basalt Project (https://www.pnnl.gov/projects/carbon-storage/wallula-basalt-project). Other important questions would be how to capture the CO2 for injection, whether direct air capture is feasible and implementing point source capture to create green industries.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Since I am at a predominantly undergraduate institution, the hardest part, for both my students and myself, is committing adequate time for research. I am very grateful for summers, when there are not as many courses and the priority can shift to research. This is also a great time to partake in summer research programs, such as the PNNL Visiting Faculty Program, which has been vital for making research progress in my group.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I enjoy presenting at conferences and supporting my undergraduate research students as they present their posters, some of which, are experiencing a scientific conference for the first time! I am planning to attend the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Durham, NC October 25-28th, 2023. I can also be reached via email at briana.aguila@fmarion.edu and on twitter @BriAguila.

How do you spend your spare time?

When I have a free moment, I like to spend time with my husband and our three dogs. I also love cooking, watching The Bachelor, reading, going to the movies, camping, and spending time with family.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

Two professions come to mind. Given my lifelong love of crime dramas, Criminal Minds, NCIS, Law & Order, etc., and my most recent obsession with true crime podcasts, I would want to be some sort of criminal investigator. My other choice would be the host of a food travel show; move over Guy Fieri!

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

I think a lot of early career folks struggle with imposter syndrome; just know you are not alone in this and it is completely normal. As long as you stay true to what you are passionate about you will surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Yaqi You

Yaqi You is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Resources Engineering at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Her research group studies microbiomes in both natural and engineered system through an interdisciplinary lens, with a long-term goal of harnessing the environmental microbiome for a sustainable food-energy-water nexus. Current research directions of interest include manipulating soil and rhizosphere microbiomes using carbonaceous materials, understanding the impact of emerging contaminants on the spread of antibiotic resistance, and addressing aquatic intermittency effects on stream microbiomes and water quality. She received a PhD in Environmental Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Read Yaqi’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: Differential effects of carbon nanotube and graphene on the tomato rhizosphere microbiome” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Differential effects of carbon nanotube and graphene on the tomato rhizosphere microbiome. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My first paper was about the persistence of mobile antibiotic resistance genes in agricultural soils due to a process called horizontal gene transfer and the influence of antibiotic residues on that process. Since then, my research has continued to focus on the environmental microbiome but evolved significantly to encompass areas in environmental health, sustainable nanotechnology, biotechnology, and biogeochemistry. What has also expanded over time is my research toolbox. My current group employs systems microbiology, analytical chemistry, and data science to understand responses of microbial systems to environmental changes with an ultimate goal of harnessing microbial powers for sustainable development. This recent article exemplifies the trajectory of that evolution. In this work, we found that carbon nanotubes have a greater impact than graphene on the rhizosphere microbiome and that rhizosphere microbes have unique responses to carbon nanotubes compared to bulk soil microbes. I hope our work can help unveil mechanisms underlying CNM-introduced plant phenotypic changes.

 What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

At the moment, I am very excited about delineating microbial responses to carbonaceous materials, particularly those in the rhizosphere. The rhizosphere microbiome is an essential component of the plant holobiont and significantly contributes to host fitness. Material-based manipulation of the plant rhizosphere holds promise to achieve sustainable crop production.

 In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

When studying the rhizosphere, I think important questions include (1) how can we disentangle complex microbe-chemical interactions in response to material-based modulation, and (2) to translate knowledge in this line to the implementation of precision rhizosphere manipulation and even engineering.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The rhizosphere represents one most complex microenvironment where a tremendous diversity of microbes and molecules coexist. Multi-omics is an ideal tool to understand the dynamic rhizosphere. However, multi-omics integration, a merger of molecular biology, analytical chemistry, bioinformatics, and data science, is always challenging.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

My group is attending the AEESP (Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors) Research & Education Conference in Boston beginning on June 20, 2023. We also plan to attend the ASA (American Society of Agronomy)-CSSA (Crop Science Society of America)-SSSA (Soil Science Society of America) International Annual Meeting in St. Louis starting on October 29, 2023.

How do you spend your spare time?

I enjoy traveling and photographing, watching movies, reading books, playing ukulele, and spending time with friends and family.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

My childhood dream was becoming an astronaut and I almost chose an astronomy major as an undergraduate. I was also fascinated with ancient world history and comparative history.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Creating a supportive “network” (credit to Earth Science Women’s Network) is critical and rewarding, both professionally and personally; learning research directions not immediately adjacent to one’s own field can spark new, interdisciplinary ideas.

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ES: Nano in the media – Research published by Nirupam Aich

Research published by Nirupam Aich in Environmental Science: Nano, alongside co-authors Arvid Masud and Chi Zhou, has been featured in several news outlets. The researchers based at University at Buffalo, USA report a direct ink writing 3D printing technique and freeze-drying to make graphene-biopolymer aerogels for water treatment.

Read the full paper:

Emerging investigator series: 3D printed graphene-biopolymer aerogels for water contaminant removal: a proof of concept

Arvid Masud, Chi Zhou and Nirupam Aich*
Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2021,8, 399-414

Read more about their work here: 

Finally, 3D-printed graphene aerogels for water treatment

https://phys.org/news/2021-04-3d-printed-graphene-aerogels-treatment.html 

New Graphene 3D Printing Technique Makes Feasible Water Filters

https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/30683/20210415/new-graphene-3d-printing-technique-makes-feasible-water-filters.htm 

How 3D printed Graphene Aerogels can be used for Water Treatment

https://www.azonano.com/news.aspx?newsID=37901

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Smog eating paint does more harm than good

Photocatalytic paints for reducing air pollution may actually do the opposite

A study by scientists in France and China has raised questions about the effectiveness of paints formulated to combat air pollution. Whilst the paints decompose some pollutants, the research revealed they also generate and release other toxic compounds.

Urban air pollution is a common problem in many of the world’s cities; vehicles and power stations are the primary culprits. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles, when exposed to UV light, can oxidise organic compounds in the air. When added to paint, they present a quick fix for reducing air pollution. However, the overall improvement to air quality is dubious.

An illustration of the emission of VOCs and nanoparticles from photocatalytic paints

a) Photocatalytic paints contain titanium dioxide nanoparticles. b) Ultraviolet radiation activates the titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which degrade ambient VOCs, as well as the organic matrix of the paint, releasing new VOCs into the air. c) As the paint ages, it releases titanium dioxide nanoparticles too. Source: © Royal Society of Chemistry

So says Sasho Gligorvoski, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team who have found that photocatalytic paints release significant quantities of nanoparticles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) over their lifetime. This is especially problematic indoors, where the chemicals accumulate over time.

 

Read the full article in Chemistry World.


Characterization of photocatalytic paints: a relationship between the photocatalytic properties – release of nanoparticles and volatile organic compounds
D. Truffier-Boutry, B. Fiorentino, V. Bartolomei, R. Soulas, O. Sicardy, A. Benayad, J.-F. Damlencourt, B. Pépin-Donat, C. Lombard, A. Gandolfo, H. Wortham, G. Brochard, A. Audemard, L. Porcar, G. Gebel and S. Gligorovski
Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2017
DOI: 10.1039/C7EN00467B

 

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Green-er gold nanoparticles

gold nano synthesis

Working in a university research laboratory, I am made aware, almost on a daily basis, of the amount of energy and chemicals we use and the amounts of—sometimes hazardous—waste we produce. Working in an environmental engineering research lab that has the word “sustainable” as part of its name, I am also well aware of how ironic that may seem.

As scientists, we want to be able to create the best, most precisely controlled, most reproducible nanoparticles and nanoparticle-containing experiments. Sometimes the cost for those conditions is high temperatures and large amounts of (sometimes harsh) chemicals (e.g., excess precursors and stabilizers). So even though the core motivation for our research is to benefit the environment, sometimes the methods we have to use in the lab are not completely environmentally friendly.

Researchers are becoming increasingly conscious that their research should also incorporate sustainability principles. It may not be possible to do research that is completely void of environmental impacts, but it’s very possible to make an effort into minimizing those impacts. This led to the establishment of the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry, established in 1998 by Paul Anastas and John Warner.

Of these 12 principles, number six refers to energy efficiency. This work done by my colleagues Leng, Pati, and Vikesland addresses that principle by demonstrating the growth of gold nanoparticles at room temperature, resulting in significant energy savings.

By using gold seeds of about 18 nm in diameter as a starting point, they were able to produce gold nanoparticles of different sizes, ranging from 20 – 110 nm, at room temperature. The fact that nanoparticle growth happens slower at room temperature can be viewed simultaneously as a negative point (it takes longer to manufacture them) and a positive point (with a slower reaction rate, it may be possible to better understand the complicated mechanisms behind nanoparticle growth).

This work shows that we need to continue incorporating the principles of green chemistry and engineering into nanomaterial design to improve our current energy-intensive nanomaterial production practices.

To access the full article, download a copy for free by clicking the link below:

Room temperature seed mediated growth of gold nanoparticles: mechanistic investigations and life cycle assessment.
Weinan Leng , Paramjeet Pati and Peter J. Vikesland
Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2015,2, 440-453
DOI: 10.1039/C5EN00026B

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About the webwriter

Marina Vance is a PhD research scientist at Virginia Tech and Associate Director of @VTSuN. She is interested in air quality and environmental nanotechnology. You can find more information about her at mevance.com and you can find more articles by Nina in her author archive.

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