NSERC Undergraduate Research: A Comprehensive Overview on the History and Future directions of Oil Dispersant Research

  • Description: I worked with the Zhang lab at Memorial University to produce a review paper on the history and future directions of oil dispersant research in order to help inform marine oil spill response strategies. I conducted state-of-the-art literature review on chemical dispersion topics including dispersant effectiveness and toxicity testing, dispersant effects on oil biodegradation and photo-degradation, dispersant toxicity, oil weathering, etc. I also helped to edit review paper chapters on dispersant working mechanisms, factors governing chemical dispersion efficacy, and dispersant effectiveness and toxicity testing. This research experience culminated in a review paper that was submitted to the Journal of Hazardous Materials in December 2021.
  • Relation to GC Focus: This research project directly relates to my GC focus, as oil spills are environmental disasters that pollute oceans/coastal waters and marine ecosystems. Studying chemical dispersant usage as a way to remediate this pollution helped me to learn about toxicity effects when ecosystems are exposed to polluted water, how marine microorganisms interact with oil and dispersant components, and efficient ways to clean oil spills.
  • Supervisor/Instructor: Dr. Helen Zhang
  • Start Date: 04/04/2020
  • End Date: 08/21/2020
  • Total Hours: 560

Pratt Fellows Research: Trace Metal Biogeochemistry

  • Description:  I am working in the Hsu-Kim lab at Duke University as a Pratt Fellow. I am currently working on a project characterizing the extracellular vesicles of various microbes in order to better understand their role in metal uptake and environmental cycling. In addition to learning laboratory methods in culturing microbes, isolating bacterial extracellular vesicles, and taking chemical measurements of biomass, a large part of my works consists of data analysis and modeling of the chemical behavior of this biomass. I am interested in measuring and modeling the surface protonation characteristics and acidic site concentrations of environmentally relevant microbes, in order to learn more about their sulfhydryl sites, which play a large role in trace metal uptake in the environment.
  • Relation to GC Focus: This research relates to my GC focus because it has implications for understanding how pollutants cycle in various environmental systems, including marine environments. We are characterizing the sulfhydryl binding sites on both the cellular and extracellular vesicle surfaces to understand how trace metals can adsorbed to them and be transported in the environment. This research may also have implications in remediation of trace metal contaminated environments. Trace metals, such as mercury, can be highly toxic to humans and wildlife when it is bioavailable. Therefore, bioavailability of trace metals in water systems can have negative health effects. More research is needed to learn how these trace metals move throughout water systems and how they can be removed from the environment.
  • Supervisor/Instructor: Dr. Heileen Hsu-Kim
  • Start Date: 01/20/2021
  • End Date: 4/20/2022
  • Total Hours: approx. 680 (10 hrs/week during 2 school semesters, 40 hrs/week during 1 summer)

Bass Connections in Energy and the Environment

  • Description: This Bass Connections class is the design capstone for the Energy and Environment Certificate. My team and I are working on a plastic recycling system that can take difficult to recycle plastics and convert them into new, useful products. Specifically, we are using recycled plastic to create building bricks. We are interested in observing the relevant building qualities of different types of plastics, such as malleability, melting temperature, tensile strength, etc. We are also interested in creating a low barrier-to-entry plastic recycling system, which includes shredding, melting, and molding mechanisms for recycled plastics.
  • Relation to GC Focus: Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing problems that water ecosystems face. The amount of plastics being produced every year is rising, yet the amount being recycled stays stagnant or even decreases year to year. Most plastics are landfilled or are incinerated. The inability to recycle plastics is largely because of economic barriers in recycling — namely, it’s cheaper to produce new plastics than it is to recycle them. However, designing useful end products from recycled plastic materials can help overcome this economic barrier — thereby incentivizing higher recycling rates of plastics. This in turn can help decrease plastic pollution in the environment, including marine ecosystems.
  • Supervisor/Instructor: Dr. Josiah Knight
  • Start Date: 8/23/2021
  • End Date: 4/30/2022
  • Total Hours: approx. 84 (3 hrs/week for 2 semesters)