The U.S. and the world are facing the very real dangers of depleted aquifers, inadequate surface water supplies, and contamination from a variety of sources including agricultural runoff, industrial discharges, acid rain, and ground-water pollutants. Waterborne pathogens are also a growing threat for water supplies. These dangers are expected to increase as populations continue to grow. Numerous technologies are being implemented to purify water, but current membrane and adsorbent materials used in water purification are not sufficient to solve all contamination problems and meet increasingly stringent new standards being proposed to protect health.

The best state-of-the-art materials have well-known shortcomings that are due to shortfalls in the current understanding of the underlying science. Indeed, to develop the revolutionary new materials and systems for safe and economical water-purification technology needed to counter the impending water crisis requires a coordinated, intensive, multi-year effort of scientists and engineers. The vision of this Center is to forge multi-disciplinary groups of researchers, educators, and practitioners into a cohesive team with the overarching goal of developing new functional materials and systems to purify water for the peoples of the United States and the world.

This Science and Technology Center (STC) has several distinguishing features. First and foremost, it provides coordinated participation of researchers in the following areas: water quality at Stanford and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), material science at UIUC, basic physical science (chemistry and physics) at the University of California at Berkeley, Clark Atlanta University, Stanford, and UIUC, and system-level experts at Stanford and UIUC. Furthermore, the Center facilitates the technology transfer and feedback from practitioners in water treatment through linkages with the UIUC Waste Management Research Center, and the Orange County (CA)Water District, as well as other water-quality organizations.

Another distinguishing feature of the STC is its establishment of a collaborative laboratory (collaboratory) for its education, research, and outreach functions, to ensure the integration of the activities. In this multi-disciplinary collaboratory, chemists, material scientists, physicists, biologists, and engineers will work together with library and information-science experts in the Center to disseminate information and research results showing how to synthesize, characterize, and understand new material systems designed to separate compounds from water and/or transform them.

The premise of this STC is that advanced, selective and efficient water-treatment technologies will be based on membrane filters, adsorbents, and catalytic surfaces. Rational development of the required materials requires a firm grasp of the basic science of the aqueous interface. The key issue is to observe and to manipulate on the Angstrom to nanometer scale interactions between the aqueous solution and the solid substrate. The goals of the STC are: (i) to advance the basic understanding of these interactions; (ii) to use the results to radically improve membranes, filters, adsorbents, and ion-exchange materials through the synthesis of new materials that are able to separate selectively and/or transform compounds in water; (iii) to integrate these new materials into viable water purification systems; and (iv) to integrate the human and knowledge infrastructure with the research mission to implement effectively the science and technology. To accomplish these goals, the STC is organized in four core teams: (i) Interfacial Processes and Molecular Characterization, (ii) Materials Synthesis and Development, (iii) System Analysis and Integration, and (iv) Collaboratory Education and Outreach.

The Center supports education and outreach activities for: (i) K-12 teachers and students to learn why clean water is important and how fundamental research and sound engineering can help make water cleaner; (ii) underrepresented groups in science and engineering, encouraging members of such groups to pursue careers related to water purification, material science, and engineering; (iii) citizen groups, water industry professionals, and local governments to help formulate, debate, and implement policies related to water quality control; and (iv) the general public to understand the need for basic research on water purification. All constituent groups are supported by a web-based collaborative laboratory to support knowledge dissemination, mentoring, learning, public debate, and discussion. The main tool used for the collaboratory is the INQUIRY-based learning and research environment developed in the UIUC School of Library and Information Science, which allows two-way research and education to be conducted between the partners and all the participants and constituent groups of the Center.

The STC seeks aggressively to increase diversity in education, research, and outreach. Diversity is essential for increasing the numbers of under-represented groups in science and technology. The STC can make the greatest impact if the knowledge and technologies developed are implemented throughout the U.S. and the world by diverse educators and researchers. To achieve this impact, the proposed STC has partnered with the Environmental Technology Consortium (ETC) of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority institutions (MIs) to increase minority participation. In addition, CAU is an active water-treatment research partner, which supports the training of a diverse group of students in water purification research.

Due to the critical need for improved materials and processes for water purification, this STC has an immediate opportunity to transfer the knowledge gained from basic science and engineering research to the practitioners in the field. In addition to the usual modes of dissemination in conferences, proceedings, journal articles, and courses, the collaboratory two-way learning and research tools developed through the STC quickly transmit knowledge between the academic partners and the partner organizations.

Project Report

The Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS) is a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center. The WaterCAMPWS has completed a twelve-year funding. The WaterCAMPWS mission is to develop revolutionary new materials and systems to safely and economically purify water for the peoples of the United States and world, and to develop the human resources to advance the science and technology of water purification. The Center's research and education activities focus on addressing the profound and growing threat of insufficient safe and clean water supplies, a situation that affects the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide, including those in the United States. Research at the WaterCAMPWS engages teams of highly-qualified faculty members and students (undergraduate and graduate) in an interdisciplinary environment structured to nurture novel ideas and facilitate supply-enhancing technologies for creating potable water via desalination and reuse, disinfection, and decontamination. To underscore the WaterCAMPWS focus on real-world solutions to real-world problems, research team efforts were around two unifying and strategically important theme areas: Water and Energy Nexus and Water and Health Nexus. FUNCTIONAL DNA BIOSENSORS FOR NEW EMERGING CONTAMINANTS IN WATER Sensors are important for on-site and real-time detection and quantification of contaminants in water. Despite recent progress, designing sensors for a broad range of analytes with high sensitivity and selectivity remains a significant challenge. We have used a combinatorial method called in vitro selection to obtain functional DNA (DNA with specific binding and enzymatic activities, also called aptamers and DNAzymes) that can bind an analyte of choice tightly and selectively. When necessary, we used negative selection strategies to improve the selectivity. By labeling the resulting DNAzymes with fluorophore/quencher pairs, gold nanoparticles, or quantum dots, we have developed new classes of fluorescent, colorimetric, and smart MRI sensors for metal ions (such as lead and uranium), organic compounds, and biomolecules. A novel approach of using inactive variants of DNAzymes to tune the detection range of the sensors was also demonstrated, and these sensors have been converted into simple "dipstick" tests for even more straightforward field applications. The research team has made progress using in vitro selection to obtain DNA aptamers specific for infectious virus over non-infectious viruses. After several rounds of selection, researchers have observed enrichment of DNA aptamers for the targets. New Generation of Nanofiltration Membrane Active Layers with Adjustable Chemistry and Structure for Enhanced Performance This interdisciplinary research uses dendrimers as building blocks to create new RO/NF membranes and to modify existing commercial membranes to enhance their performance. Researchers have created dendrimer-modified membranes that reject small organic molecules at the same level as commercial RO molecules while maintaining a water flux 6 times higher. However, the lack of stability of the dendrimers on the PA layer remains to be resolved. The primary objective of the current research is to modify a commercial NF membrane by covalently attaching to the active layer the first generation of an amine terminated aramide dendrimer (G1-NH2). The method chosen to address the membrane stability challenge was to synthesize amine terminated dendrimers and covalently bond them to the PA active layer of a commercial nanofiltration membrane (TFC-S). Amide bonds are formed by activation of the free carboxylic groups on the PA with 1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethylaminopropyl) carbodiimide (EDC) and 2-chloro-1-methylpyridinium iodide (CMPI), followed by aminolysis. ROBUST AND RESILIENT PHOTOTROPHIC BIOPROCESSES FOR RESOURCE RECOVERY FROM WASTEWATER The focus of developing world sanitation interventions is often on containment – not treatment – of human bodily waste. Technologies that are deployed always require some level of upkeep, with little incentive for end users or entrepreneurs to maintain the system over the long-term. Sanitation, therefore, becomes a burden to communities with no immediate or directly observable benefit. In order to transform sanitation from a burden to a community-valued resource, we are developing solar-driven bioprocesses that treat bodily waste while creating economic incentives for system management through energy, water, and nutrient recovery. We have developed a lumped pathway metabolic model of the model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and conducted preliminary experimentation to calibrate and validate the model. To date, however, the field lacks the mechanistic understanding of environmental stressors and algal physiology and kinetics to be able to design bioprocesses to achieve wastewater treatment while simultaneously enriching for target compounds for energy (long chain fatty acids, carbohydrates) and fertilizer (proteins) production. Our results have demonstrated that microalgae can yield an order of magnitude more energy per capita from municipal wastewater than anaerobic treatment processes, and have demonstrated that the biochemical composition of microalgae can be used to predict biocrude oil yield and quality from hydrothermal liquefaction. Finally, we are positioned to track microbial community structure in mixed phototrophic systems, which we expect will enable the identification of selective pressures for robust and resilient treatment processes that link effluent quality and bioenergy production.2

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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
United States
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