Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Chemistry Graduate Students Named Steinbrenner Graduate Fellows
Graduate students Adam Ahern and Matthew Mills have been awarded Steinbrenner Graduate Fellowships to support their environmentally-focused, interdisciplinary research projects. The fellowships provide tuition support to highly qualified, second-year graduate students across all seven colleges at Carnegie Mellon who are engaged in cutting-edge environmental research.
Adam Ahern is a second-year chemistry Ph.D. student working with Ryan Sullivan and Neil Donahue in the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies. Ahern analyzes the particles that are released into the atmosphere when biomass, such as trees or agricultural waste, is burned. These particles, often called soot, vary subtly in chemical composition from particle to particle and can adversely affect our health and impact our climate. Ahern analyzes the particles present in smoke to determine their chemical composition. This fall, he will travel to the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana, where he will use specialized mass spectrometers to capture and analyze the smoke produced when Fire Lab scientists burn biomass in controlled experiments. Using a highly sophisticated and recently developed piece of equipment called a Laser Ablation Aerosol Particle Time-of-Flight mass spectrometer, Ahern will obtain a reading of the chemical composition of individual particles in smoke from the burning of various types of biomass. Knowing what each particle is made of will help scientists learn more about how the particles behave in the atmosphere, and how they affect health and impact climate.
Matthew Mills is a second-year chemistry Ph.D. student working with Terry Collins in the Institute for Green Science. Mills works with molecules called TAML® activators that break down pollutants contaminating the water supply and soil. Specifically, Mills is using TAMLs to target ethinylestradiol, an artificial estrogen found in birth control pills. Ethinylestradiol can enter surface water as a result of incomplete wastewater treatment. If wildlife or humans consume that contaminated water, the synthetic estrogen can mimic or block the activities of natural estrogen and potentially disrupt the normal functions of the endocrine system and impair development. In previous research, researchers at the Institute for Green Science and their collaborators have shown that TAMLs used with hydrogen peroxide can remove over 95 percent of the ethinylestradiol from water after one treatment. The chemical reaction occurs at a pH range of 6-9, which is applicable to wastewater treatment on a larger scale. Mills is currently trying to better understand the chemical processes and byproducts that result from TAMLs breaking down ethinylestradiol.