Active, Multi-Functional Environmental Nanotechnology for Remediation of Inorganic and Biological Pollutants


Active, Multi-Functional Environmental Nanotechnology for Remediation of Inorganic and Biological Pollutants

Camilah Powell, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

3:30 p.m., May 5, 2022   |   Eck Visitor Center Auditorium

Water scarcity devastates human health, the environment, and the economy. Earth’s drinking water supplies are predicted to decrease by 1/3 due to the resulting demand on fresh water sources from the food and energy sectors to accommodate the world’s growing population. Unfortunately, current drinking water purification technologies prove to be inept in addressing emerging contaminants of concern (e.g., oxyanions, organics, bacteria, viruses, etc) or are inaccessible to millions of people. Additionally, public concern exists regarding the persistence of priority and emerging contaminants in current drinking water sources after treatment, the deleterious effects of waterborne diseases among the vulnerable population (children), and, most recently, the spread of airborne pathogens (i.e., SARS-CoV-2).

Camilah Powell

Nanotechnology can help address these persistent concerns by enhancing current water treatment schemes to better treat emerging and chronic contaminants of concern, however, a deeper understanding of nanotechnologies is necessary to improve function, enhance efficiency, and build in multifunctional properties.

Herein I will present two examples of how nanotechnology can be made multifunctional for enhanced pollutant remediation. The first incorporates magnetic nanotechnology (i.e., iron-based nanomaterials) as an adsorbent material which can readily remove common contaminates of concerns that plague developing nations (e.g., arsenic) while maintaining their chemical integrity. The magnetic adsorbents are easily separated from the target water source under flowing conditions utilizing a simple, low-energy separation technique that was eventually scaled-up into an optimized large-scale magnetic removal system for complete magnetic removal under industrial scale flow conditions. The second example incorporates a prime carbon-based nanomaterial called laser-induced graphene (LIG) on surfaces of air filters and concrete and was effective against aerosolized viruses and bacteria mixtures – this feature was significantly enhanced with the addition of low applied voltages. Mechanistic studies of the active surface showed a strong correlation between the capacitive charge effects of the LIG coating to the antimicrobial effect of the surface.

As society on the world’s stage progresses, recalcitrant and emerging pollutants of concern will continue to manifest themselves within our environment (air and water alike). Therefore, the on-going development and study of nano-based technologies can help combat pollution and promote a safer society for all.

Camilah Powell was awarded a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. As a part of Professor Christopher J. Arnusch’s research group, her current work investigates the use of laser induced graphene and its composites for antibacterial and antimicrobial purposes. Camilah received her Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Rice University under the advising of Professor Michael S. Wong and conducted her Ph.D. research at the NSF funded Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) ERC, where she developed a magnetic nanoparticle recovery water treatment system and exploited the magnetic properties of nano-sized materials for water-related catalysis and adsorption. She obtained her B.S. in Engineering Science at Trinity University in San Antonio Texas, worked as a contractor for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and loves to play the guitar.