Putans' Research Recognized with American Chemical Society Award
A directed study opportunity at Albion College and an interest in the environment led Becca Putans, '10, to research how small particles of palladium could be applied to filtration devices for the cleanup and reuse of water. Her efforts were recognized as she received an Undergraduate Student Award in Environmental Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Environmental Chemistry.
Putans' adviser, assistant professor Kevin Metz, supplied the background in nanoparticles. Polluted water is treated when it runs through surfaces treated with palladium.
"We're using the palladium as a catalyst to dechlorinate certain solvents typically used in dry cleaning and big industrial sites where cleaning solvents are used," Putans said. "The molecule we're looking at (in the polluted water) has chlorine sticking out of it. The palladium takes away a chlorine molecule and adds hydrogen to make it less toxic.
"Chemists were testing iron particles (for application in water reuse and remediation), and it moved on to an iron core with a palladium shell and that worked a lot better," Putans added. "Palladium already has been known as a catalyst to add hydrogen and going to the nanoscale makes it a better catalyst. We're trying to see how much better we can make it."
Putans began working on her study of palladium in September and, after working on the project throughout the fall, she left her home in Grand Rapids and returned to campus the week before spring semester classes resumed in January to continue the research. Her poster presentation at the ACS spring meeting which was held March 21-25 in San Francisco showed her work in placing palladium particles onto the filtration membranes. The next step is to reproduce the small particles of palladium and to begin running water through filtration devices coated with the element.
Through her study, Putans has mastered the use of sensitive equipment - electron microscopes, optical spectroscopes and vibration spectroscopes - to observe the tiny materials she is working with. The knowledge of equipment, and the ability to think about the solutions to problems on her own, will likely give her a head start when she begins pursuit of her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
Putans' research was supported in part through a major grant Metz received from the ACS Petroleum Research Fund.