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Expanded Investigations into Remediation of Metal-Contaminated Water Through Electrospun Biopolymer Nanofibers

Faculty Mentor: Matthew Cathell

Student: Melissa Bradley

This project began during MUSE 2011 and is an expansion of ongoing research dealing with remediation of polluted water. The goal of our research is to create biopolymer fiber mats that successfully filter toxic metals out of water. These mats were made from the biopolymer alginate, a water-soluble polymer known for its ability to bind to heavy metals. The production of these mats was achieved by electrospinning, a process in which nanoscale fibers are fabricated from polymer solutions in a high voltage electric field.

Fibers with diameter of about 200 nm were successfully electrospun and imaged using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). These fibers were then crosslinked, causing bonds to form within the polymer chains that strengthen the fibers and make them suitable for water filtration. This was achieved using calcium ions to create initial electrostatic crosslinks, followed by a glutaradehyde vapor treatment.

The final step in our research was to determine metal sorption capabilities of the fibers. Through colorimetric testing with a UV-visible spectrophotometer, it was determined that the fibers successfully biosorbed lead, mercury, and cadmium ions from water.