This NSF award by the Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology program supports work by Professor Tewodros Asefa to develop and investigate new classes of TiO2- and ZnO-based core-shell-shell nanoparticles (particles with one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair in size) capable of efficiently photo-decomposing or converting in the presence of sunlight common organic pollutants in the environment and in waste water into harmless or even useful substances such as CO2 and H2O. The successful accomplishment of the proposed work will result in not only robust materials useful for environmental decontamination but also easily recoverable and recyclable materials for multiple uses. Such materials will be useful for recycling waste water at a time of shortages of clean water at various locations in the U.S. and around the world. The research findings should also inform future research directions in synthetic approaches to novel multifunctionally-doped efficient nanomaterials for efficient photodegradation of organic pollutants in waste water. The project?s societal benefits include advancement of systematic, less costly synthetic methods to create materials capable of cleaning environmentally prevalent pollutants from waste water with the direct use of solar energy.
The project will also allow the training of a number of post-doctoral researchers and graduate and undergraduate students who will be involved in the research project in the PI's lab. These students, including those from groups underrepresented in sciences and engineering fields, will be trained in a variety of synthetic methods involving nanomaterials synthesis, their characterization, photocatalysis, and scientific/engineering approaches utilized in environmental remediation. Furthermore, the PI will use results from the proposed work in his undergraduate and graduate course offerings in nanoscience, materials chemistry and nanotechnology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. This project will also enable the PI to continue to involve high school senior students in research through Rutgers' Governor's School program during the summer semester. In addition, the PI will use the results of the research project in presentations to teach the potential implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology for general audiences attending Science Fairs, as well as in Discovery Day activities at Rutgers. The PI will further use these opportunities to draw students' interest into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and to change students' (and parents') perceptions about science and engineering disciplines.