September 23, 2019 | 75° F

Rutgers study is developing new materials to detect environmental hazards

Photo by Wikimedia Commons |

Due to recent industrialization, heavier metals have become more prevalent in the atmosphere. These metals include substances such as arsenic, mercury and lead, which can be a hazard to the water supply.

A new study by Rutgers researchers titled “Highly Efficient Luminescent Metal–Organic Framework for the Simultaneous Detection and Removal of Heavy Metals from Water” is looking to develop new materials to detect environmental hazards that can be toxic and can be present in substances, such as our water supply.  

Heavy metals include substances such as arsenic, mercury and lead, which have become more prevalent in the atmosphere due to industrialization over the past few years, said Jing Li, a distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry.

The research team described the method of heavy metal detecting as “sensing and capturing.” Li said the sensing aspect involves detecting the trace amounts of heavy metal in a sample of water. 

“This is possible because the materials’ fluorescence properties change in the presence of heavy metals. When illuminated by a black light (UV light), our materials usually glow a bright color, like blue or green. However, if lead or mercury are present, the ‘glow’ fades or can disappear entirely," Li said.

The capturing process involves using materials in order to extract the heavy metals out in an efficient and safe manner. Li said that the researchers have also been working on creating a mercury test strip that is able to detect mercury in contaminated substances. One such material the team has created is a porous substance they have referred to as LMOF-263.

“One gram of our LMOF-263 material has a volume of about 2 to 3 cubed centimeters, but a surface area of over 1,000 square meters — approximately 2.5 times the size of a basketball court,” Li said. She also said that the pores are vital to the structure of the material because they make sure that the heavy metals bind and stay latched on. This ensures a successful extraction process.

Currently, processes of heavy metal extraction are very labor-intensive and require extensive scientific efforts as well as money. Li said through this breakthrough research, the scientists hope to create materials that are inexpensive and simple to use. This would be beneficial to various developing countries where metal pollution in water can be especially prevalent and where scientific facilities are limited.

When asked about their motivation for the study, Li said: “We hope that by making heavy-metal monitoring and clean-up easier, our technology will help to decrease the prevalence of heavy metal pollution in the environment.”

Gopna Shekaran

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