New chemistry finding could remove micropollutants from environment

July 21, 2021

New army-funded research has identified a new chemistry approach that could remove micropollutants from the environment.

Using a pioneering imaging technique, Cornell University researchers obtained a high-resolution snapshot of how ligands, molecules that bind to other molecules or metals, interact with the surface of nanoparticles. In doing so, they made an unexpected breakthrough discovery. They determined that by varying the concentration of an individual ligand, they could control the shape of the particle it attached to.

“For us, this has opened more possibilities,” professor Peng Chen of Cornell University said. “For example, one way to remove micropollutants, such as pesticides, from the environment is to adsorb micro-portions on the surface of some adsorbent particle. After it is adsorbed on the surface of the particle, if the particle is a catalyst, it can catalyze the destruction of the micropollutants."

This approach could result in a group of routine operations, including developing chemical sensors that are sensitive at a very low level to a specific chemical in the environment.

“Professor Chen's work allows for deep insights into molecular adsorption processes, which is important to understand for designing molecular sensors, catalysts and schemes to clean up micro-pollutants in the environment,” said James Parker, program manager, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command.

The research, published in Nature Communications, studied interactions of ligands and gained new understanding of the strength, or affinity of ligand adsorption as well as how multiple ligands cooperate, or don't cooperate, with each other.

New chemistry finding could remove micropollutants from environment