Novel technologies using nanoparticles may hold promise for addressing contaminated drinking water, according to Angela Gutierrez, winner of the 2017 Karen Wetterhahn Award, in an Oct. 3 lecture at NIEHS.
“[To meet global water demands] there is a growing need for environmentally friendly technologies for water treatment that cost less and work more quickly than existing approaches,” Gutierrez said. “My research is focused on developing a low-cost and reusable cleanup technology to address this need.”
Gutierrez, who is pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Kentucky (UK), provided an overview of her work, including how her cleanup technology was developed and tested.
“Angela exemplifies the qualities of scientific excellence that Karen Wetterhahn embodied,” said Superfund Research Program (SRP) Director Bill Suk, Ph.D. “Previous Wetterhahn Award winners have gone on to do extraordinary things in research, government, and industry, and we’re excited to see the great things that Angela will accomplish with her research.”
Harnessing the power of plants
Under the guidance of Zach Hilt, Ph.D., and Thomas Dziubla, Ph.D., at the UK SRP Center, Gutierrez has developed innovative magnetic nanoparticles coated with polyphenols, which are micronutrients that come from plants. The technology binds and removes polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from contaminated water.
Gutierrez and her team make magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles in the lab. They combine these nanoparticles with naturally occurring polyphenols from turmeric and berries to produce a technology that is much cheaper than traditional methods. Because the nanoparticles are magnetic, they can be recaptured with magnets after treatment and reused. The reuse decreases both environmental impact and cost.
Gutierrez determined that polyphenols bind more effectively to PCBs than do traditional approaches that use activated carbon. Chemistry techniques optimize the technology and improve PCB binding, she said. Further research evaluated the influence of environmental factors, such as water hardness, and how well the materials could be regenerated and reused.
Moving forward, the team is continuing to improve the technology’s performance and expanding it to bind to other contaminants.
Opportunities in translational research
Gutierrez was also one of six promising Superfund trainees to receive the 2016 K.C. Donnelly award. She used the award to work at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she focused on quality assurance and laboratory procedures for evaluating new cleanup technologies.
“The K.C. Donnelly Externship provided me an opportunity to learn new techniques and acquire the skills to successfully transfer my laboratory work into the field,” Gutierrez said.
The supplemental award provides current SRP-funded graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with translational and transdisciplinary experiences at other SRP-funded centers, government laboratories, or other agencies.
Gutierrez AM, Dziubla TD, Hilt J. 2017. Recent advances on iron oxide magnetic nanoparticles as sorbents of organic pollutants in water and wastewater treatment. Rev Environ Health 32(1–2):111–117.
Patil VS, Gutierrez AM, Sunkara M, Morris AJ, Hilt J, Kalika DS, Dziubla TD. 2017. Curcumin acrylation for biological and environmental applications. J Nat Prod 80:1964–1971.
(Adeline Lopez is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)