July 2, 2007

Steven Mylon Conducts Six-Month Research Project in Australia

Alex Goergen ’08 is assisting chemistry professor for 10 weeks

Steven Mylon, assistant professor of chemistry, is spending the next six months conducting research across the world at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Mylon is working in the laboratory of David Waite, director of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the university.

Chemistry major Alex Goergen ’08 (Allegheny, N.Y.) is accompanying Mylon on part of the trip through a $25,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) International Research and Education in Engineering (IREE) grant Mylon received. Goergen is spending 10 weeks this summer assisting Mylon with his research.

While at the university, Mylon and Goergen are learning methods for the synthesis of zero-valent iron nanoparticles for use in both batch and column perchlorate reduction experiments.

“We hope to show that an abiotic method of perchlorate remediation is possible at a fairly low cost,” says Mylon. “Should we be successful in this, this will open up avenues for enhancing the perchlorate separation and remediation project that was originally sponsored by the NSF.”

Mylon sees the time in Australia as an excellent opportunity for Goergen to grow as a researcher.

“After having worked in my lab in Easton for the past two summers, Alex now has the opportunity to work in a new research institution with graduate students and post-doctorates in a different country,” says Mylon. “I have pointed him in a direction, but he is doing the work by himself and with others here in Sydney. It’s a completely different situation than if he were to stay for a third summer in Easton. He’ll be working on a new project and, therefore, will develop a new set of laboratory skills. Now, when Alex makes decisions about his professional future, this diverse set of opportunities he has experienced will provide the background he needs to make this decision.”

Mylon’s research in Australia supports work he started earlier with Javad Tavakoli, associate professor and head of chemical engineering; Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Laurie Caslake, assistant professor of biology. They received a $200,000 NSF grant; funding began in June 2006 and will continue through May 2009.

The multidisciplinary project focused on finding a cheaper method to remove the contaminant perchlorate from groundwater, which moves easily through groundwater and has been linked to certain cancers. It is used in the manufacturing of propellants such as rocket fuel, munitions, and fireworks. The Environmental Protection Agency has placed perchlorate on its Contaminant Candidate List, which means that it is a potential candidate for regulation.

According to Mylon, who wrote the grant proposal, a system has already been developed which removes perchlorate from groundwater, but it is expensive and only cost-effective with large scale contamination.

Perchlorate is removed from water through the use of an ion exchange resin. The chemical accumulates on the resin and the resin cannot be reused. Not only is the resin expensive, but this produces hazardous waste, which must be disposed of.

Lafayette’s team is working on a process that would destroy the chemical after it has been removed through the use of bacteria. This provides an affordable way for small communities to clean contaminated water because the resin can be reused and also produces no hazardous waste.

Not only will this project bring about a potential solution to an environmental problem, but it has also provided real-world experiences for numerous students, including chemical engineering graduate Jessica Jenkins ’07; chemical engineering majors Korin Kohen ’08 (Istanbul, Turkey), Briana Hecht ’08 (Chestnut Hill, Mass.), and Carolyn Stolfi ’09 (Chatham, N.J.); biochemistry major Hannah Fink’09 (Whitehall, Pa.); and biology major Brian Kilmartin ’09 (Norristown, Pa.).

“One of NSF’s goals of the IREE program is to develop collaborations between principal investigators in the United States and those abroad,” explains Mylon. “I’ll be spending six months working with this group in Sydney and will likely develop new skills and some new ideas about this perchlorate project and also about other areas of environmental chemistry. When I return to Lafayette, there will be more opportunities for student research in my lab. Additionally, the ties that I make with this group here may create other opportunities for Lafayette students to come here for research.”

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