2021 Summer REU: Food, Energy, and Water Security

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The Mississippi State University Chemistry Department seeks applicants for an interdisciplinary NSF-supported summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program occurring in 2021. Students who have completed their freshman year of college and who have not yet graduated can participate fully in the Food, Energy and Water Security Summer Research Program activities and work on a research project under the direction of a faculty mentor. The cohort of students will participate in exciting renewable energy research projects as well as professional development, social and outreach activities. Student participants will receive a $5,000 stipend, a housing and meal plan for ten weeks, and travel assistance.

Renewable energy offers exciting possibilities for research. Students will be offered the opportunity to engage in research related to the production of biofuels, and the application of biochar materials to water purification and soil amendment. Research projects include the growth of biomass impacted through soil amendment, the creation and purification of biofuels from organic matter, and the purification of wastewater and lagoons using biochars. Complementary workshops will also be included that emphasize career paths in environmentally focused fields with discussions on running a small business and entrepreneurial pathways.

Eligibility

Undergraduate student participants must have completed their freshmen year of college but not yet graduated and must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions. Students from a variety of majors will be considered including chemistry, biochemistry, all engineering majors and environmental sciences. Underrepresented groups in science are strongly encouraged to apply, including minorities, women, and first-generation college students.

Key Dates and Deadlines

Applications due 03/01/2021
Experience begins 06/01/2021
Experience ends 08/06/2021

For more information, including details on research project, see information below or contact program director Dr. Deb Mlsna (dmlsna@chemistry.msstate.edu). 

Research Projects

More information on each project is listed below.

  1. Using pyrolysis chars and bio-oil from forestry and agricultural wastes as additives in renewable solid fuels
  2. Development and testing of green adsorbents for water purification of toxic chemicals.
  3. Green house studies to develop and test green soil amendments.
  4. Wastewater as a valuable source for water and energy recovery
  5. Using advanced NMR techniques to monitor the performance of green adsorbents with complex mixtures.
  6. Characterization of gamma-ray imaging system for use in Depleted Uranium remediation efforts
  7. Production and testing of engineered biochar for the removal of phosphorus from stormwater runoff.
  8. Development of molecular materials for efficient energy harvesting and conversion
  9. Development of materials as catalysts for challenging catalytic transformations and toxic gas adsorbents
  10. Development of spectroscopic methods for rapid food quality assay
  11. Environmentally friendly, heterogeneous catalytic systems for cross-coupling reactions
  12. Analysis of pharmaceuticals by Mass Spectrometry and Ion Mobility Spectrometry: from clinical analysis to wastewater monitoring
  13. Water desalination and ion-removal by capacitive deionization
  14. High Temperature Polyarylenes for Advanced Composites and Optoelectronic Applications
  15. Semi-Fluorinated Aromatic Ether Polymers for Optoelectronic and Energy Applications
  16. Analysis of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) skin microbiome

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Research Project Summaries

1. Using pyrolysis chars and bio-oil from forestry and agricultural wastes as additives in renewable solid fuels

Students engaged with this project will create and characterize biochar and bio-oil from forestry and agricultural wastes. They will be involved in applied testing of these materials as renewable solid fuel additives. When used as an additive, biochar and bio-oil can improve wood pellet characteristics by increasing the pellet durability index and calorific value. Students will learn bench-top lab skills and analytical techniques used in the characterization of materials, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, methods to determine the proximate and ultimate composition of materials, and solid fuel characterization methods.

2. Development and testing of green adsorbents for water purification of toxic chemicals

Biochar materials have high surface area and can be modified to display varying functional groups on their surface.  Interactions with contaminants in the environment can allow compounds to be adsorbed and removed from water sources.  This project will focus on the development and characterization of new materials.  Students will learn standard bench top techniques along with a variety of analytical instrumentation including TEM, SEM, AA, IR, UV-Vis and Gas Chromatography.

3. Green house studies to develop and test green soil amendments

Carbon rich amendments are developed to augment soils and retain nutrients for plant utilization.  This project develops new amendments and uses green house studies and plant growth to assess the impact for agricultural applications.  Students learn techniques for growing and monitoring plants, along with assay techniques for biomass.

4. Wastewater as a valuable source for water and energy recovery

Students conducting research in this project will develop and evaluate the performance of novel, energy-efficient and energy-positive wastewater treatment processes including nutrient removal. Energy and nutrient recovery schemes will be studied through bio-electro-chemical wastewater treatment. Application of sustainable and cost-effective materials will be evaluated in bio-electro-chemical treatment of agricultural and other industrial wastewaters.

5. Using advanced NMR techniques to monitor the performance of green adsorbents with complex mixtures

Students in this project will identify the intermolecular forces that drive nano-scale interactions between molecular systems and adsorbent materials. Biophysical techniques will be used to understand the behavior of biological macromolecules as they interact with these materials in the environment. Students will gain exposure to multidimensional NMR spectroscopy, spectroscopy, and separations, and they will gain the ability to interpret binding data using computational tools like MATLAB.

6. Characterization of gamma-ray imaging system for use in Depleted Uranium remediation efforts

Students engaged in this project will work with a gamma-ray imaging system to optimize techniques for identifying radioactive sources such as depleted uranium (DU) in the environment. DU, which is often found in the environment where it has been deployed by the US military, can be found in fragmented pieces covering large areas and in hard-to-access locations that contribute to radioactive contamination on the ground and in water supplies that poses dangers to human and wildlife health. Through developing various imaging modalities with a gamma-ray imaging system, identification and characterization of residual contamination can be achieved at large offset distances. Students will learn bench-top lab skills, data collection practices, spectroscopic analysis techniques, and software simulation validation as part of this project.

7. Production and testing of engineered biochar for the removal of phosphorus from stormwater runoff

Students will work to scale up the production of engineered biochar, test batches of the production process, and install bioreactors in an agricultural setting for the removal of phosphorus from stormwater runoff. Students will learn bench-top lab skills, soil and water testing skills, and participate in field-scale deployment of materials for stormwater treatment.

8. Development of molecular materials for efficient energy harvesting and conversion

Students engaged with this project will identify and experimentally characterize new molecular materials that are suitable for high efficiency thermoelectric energy conversion. Single molecules are promising candidates for energy harvesting and conversion due the expected high efficiency.  Developing molecular-scale energy harvesting technologies is crucial for adverting crisis in environment and energy.  Students will learn bench-top lab skills and a range of characterization and analytical techniques used in the study of energy conversion at the molecular scale, including scanning tunneling microscopy, atomic force microscopy, optics, transmission electron microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy. 

9. Development of materials as catalysts for challenging catalytic transformations and toxic gas adsorbents

Students engaged with this project will synthesize organometallic complexes and Metal-Organic Frameworks, MOFs. Students will graft the organometallic complexes into the MOFs and analyze them using a range of analytical techniques for the characterization of new materials. Students will use these materials as heterogeneous catalysts for the synthesis of high-value products from hydrocarbons. The sought products include silicon-containing synthons from internal alkenes and dicarboxylic acids from allyl alcohols. Students will compare the catalytic reactivity of the new materials vis-à-vis with that of the organometallic precursors in homogeneous phase. The materials will also be tested as toxic gas (SO2 and CO2) adsorbents through academic collaborations.

10. Development of spectroscopic methods for rapid food quality assay

Participating students will study food quality biomarkers and explore ways for their rapid quantifications.  Students will learn a series of optical spectroscopic methods including equilibrium and kinetic UV-vis, fluorescence, and polarized resonance synchronous spectroscopic techniques.  By working with practical food samples including beef, catfish, and cow milk, students will gain appreciation of the challenges in chemical analysis for real-world samples.

11. Environmentally friendly, heterogeneous catalytic systems for cross-coupling reactions

Students engaged with this project will generate and study new heterogeneous catalytic systems for C—N bond forming reactions using environmentally-friendly transition metal ions, solid supports, and renewable solvent system.  Students will use a variety of bench-top lab skills in this interdisciplinary project, where they will gain experience using a range of instrumental techniques employed in modern synthetic research laboratories. Specifically students will gain experiences in materials characterization, bench scale catalysis, gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, and a range of other organic spectroscopic techniques. 

12. Analysis of pharmaceuticals by Mass Spectrometry and Ion Mobility Spectrometry: from clinical analysis to wastewater monitoring

Students engaged in this project would help collect and analyze data to learn about the gas-phase unimolecular dissociation pathways, the solution-phase hydrogen-deuterium exchange, and the gas-phase ion mobility separations of pharmaceutical compounds (and related chemicals). The goal of this work is to develop new approaches to the differentiation of closely related compounds (e.g., isomers), with relevance to the detection, characterization, and quantitation of pharmaceutical compounds in clinical and environmental analyses.

13.  Water desalination and ion-removal by capacitive deionization

Removing salt ions from water is an energy-intensive process, but it is a critically important technology. The aim of this project is to find the most efficient, lowest-cost method to remove sodium, chloride, and fluoride ions from contaminated water. Capacitive deionization in combination with chemically modified bio-based electrodes is the approach used. Students will prepare chemically modified electrode materials, prepare desalination cells, and monitor the salt removal ability with ion-selective electrodes.

14. High Temperature Polyarylenes for Advanced Composites and Optoelectronic Applications

Polyarylene networks are produced via the thermal cyclopolymerization of bis-o-diynylarene (BODA) monomers affording intermediate resins which can be melt processed and thermally cured (Td > 400 °C).  As a special class of enediynes, BODA monomers are prepared in three steps from commercial bis-phenols and undergo radical mediated Bergman cyclization and overall step-growth propagation to variable molecular weight reactive resin intermediates.  Upon thermal processing via extrusion, infusion, coating, or micro/nano-molding and final cure, the resulting polyarylene networks are studied for applications such as thin film dielectrics, carbon fiber matrix composites, carbon-carbon composites, light emitting diodes, and photonic/electronic sensors.  Students working on this project will learn standard synthetic organic techniques and characterization through IR and NMR.

15. Semi-Fluorinated Aromatic Ether Polymers for Optoelectronic and Energy Applications

Semi-fluorinated aromatic polymer are prepared via unique step-growth polymerization of fluoroalkenes.
Perfluorocyclobutyl (PFCB) aryl ether polymers are prepared via step-growth thermal cyclopolymerization of aryl trifluorovinyl ether (TFVE) monomers for a variety of applications desiring an optically tunable, thermally stable, and processable fluoropolymers.  More recently, fluorinated aryl vinylene ether (FAVE) polymers are prepared from the condensation of functionalized bisphenols with TFVEs.  In addition, perfluorocycloalkene (PFCA) polymers from commercial perfluorocycloalkene monomers and bisphenols are also under study. These three classes of fluoropolymers are solution processable, exhibit excellent thermal stability, and crosslink thermally without the use of post-curatives. 
Students working on this project will learn standard synthetic organic techniques and characterization through IR and NMR.

16. Analysis of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) skin microbiome

The Mississippi Sound is home to the nation’s largest bay, sound, and estuarine population of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates), serving as a nursery ground for newborn dolphin calves and providing vital foraging habitat for dolphins.  Dolphin skin has a microbiome that serves in a protective role for healthy dolphins, but it can also harbor opportunistic pathogens that can cause disease if dolphins become stressed or their skin is compromised.  Because dolphins are in intimate contact with their marine environment, their skin microbiome is heavily influenced by water conditions.  To protect and maintain the health of this important population, information is needed about the microbiome of dolphin skin.  In this project, the student will work with a team to use high-throughput DNA sequencing and computer analysis to characterize the microbiome on skin of dolphins from the Mississippi Sound.