A U of S research team is developing materials that could soon be used to improve water quality worldwide.
Rui Guo, PhD student, alongside her supervisors Lee Wilson (chemistry) and Lalita Bharadwaj (toxicology), has developed biopolymer materials with enhanced adsorbent properties. Referred to in scientific circles as smart materials, Guo’s synthetically engineered biopolymers hold enormous potential in various applications, with water remediation being the most notable.
“We are running out of fresh water. It’s not a question of if, but when,” said Wilson. “So the ability to, for example, desalinate water using little to no energy would be huge. This could address water quality issues around the world.”
Smart materials, like the ones developed by Guo, are novel in their ability to essentially turn on and off in response to external stimuli such as changes in temperature or pH balance. While filtration methods like reverse osmosis require pressure to remove molecules or ions, minimal energy inputs are required for smart materials to function.
With Guo’s laboratory experiments showing considerable promise, large-scale applications are already in the works. Wilson and Guo will soon be working with a professor in Guyana on an international project looking to capture various contaminants in surface water bodies.
Closer to home, Guo’s smart materials could also be used to remove arsenic from both surface and ground water in Saskatchewan.
“Wherever you find gold or uranium, you will also find arsenic. Saskatchewan has an arsenic problem, and we can potentially use Rui’s materials to address this,” said Wilson.
Guo has already won several awards for her research and is an author or co-author of seven peer-reviewed publications including an invited review from Bentham Science Publishers this past May.