Primary Investigator: Kara Nell
Award Type: Seed Grant – Undergraduate Research Scholar 

Problem: A majority of Minnesota’s waterways hold an elevated concentration of nitrate. Commonly emanating from runoff of agricultural fertilizers, high nitrate concentrations can cause algal blooms, eutrophication, and even direct human health issues. Yet, removing nitrate from these waters without influencing other molecules and drastically changing the water chemistry, possibly detrimentally, requires the ability to specifically target these molecules. Current nitrate filtration methods lack this specificity. 

Solution: Early work by Nell’s lab showed that several novel silica materials selectively target specific anions like nitrate in competitive environments. They are currently working to determine their particular affinity with and selectivity for nitrate. This project will work to optimize nano-scale structures made of silica (aka – nano-silica materials) for the targeted binding and removal of nitrate from water, while minimizing the capture and removal of other water-soluble molecules.

Impact: The use of functionalized nano-silica materials would improve the ability of filtration techniques to be chemical selective for water remediation. This technology would not only be beneficial to multiple aspects of the water remediation process, but also may seed the way for direct application to soils – in a proactive implementation.

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