Environmental Chemistry & Geochemistry

Environmental Chemistry Research

Chemists play a central role environmental chemistry research and help to develope an understanding of the complex nature of terrestrial and marine chemistry.   and the essential link between humans and their environment.  Working with engineers and marine scientists, this fundamental knowledge drives how we respond to a changing climate and how we reduce the impact of a growing global population on the environment.

Graduates go on to work for government agencies, mining and energy companies as well as in academia. 

Environmental Chemistry Research Projects

Ongoing environmental chemistry research at FIT includes the study of naturally occurring and artificially introduced metals in the environment including minerals and nanostructures.

Formation and toxicity of naturally occurring nanoparticles:  Naturally occurring nanoparticles (NNPs) derived from biological, geological and chemical processes are a far greater source of nanoparticulate matter compared to current amounts of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), but NNPs are a largely unexplored class of environmental toxicants. Dr. Winkelmann's research group develops methods to mimic the synthesis of NNPs within the laboratory in order to study their properties, including their toxicity to plants and algae. Distinguishing between the toxicity of ENPs and NPPs will help determine which source should be of greater concern and perhaps lead to the replacement of ENPs with NNPs that are prepared under greener experimental conditions.

Photocatalytic decomposition of gaseous and aqueous pollutants:  Removal of pollutants from the air and water improves the quality of life for everybody. As countries raise their environmental standards, new approaches are necessary for remediation of industrial and naturally occurring pollutants.  Titanium dioxide is useful for degrading many pollutants when exposed to the sun and is a key component in several current commercial remediation processes.  Dr. Winkelmann’s group is investigating the details of light-initiated reactions on the surface of nanosized titanium dioxide particles. By understanding the rate of a reaction and the step-by-step process it follows (the reaction’s mechanism), we can optimize the reaction for removing different pollutants and converting them into industrially useful products.

Uranium minerals:  The study of uranyl-minerals is important for understanding water-rock interactions in uranium-deposits associated with uranium mines and mill tailings as well as spent nuclear fuel in a moist, oxidizing environment that may occur in repositories.  In collaboration with geological science researchers, Dr. Freund's group is developing analytical technique to investigate the structure and bonding in a wide range of natural and synthetic uranyl minerals.

Organic geochemistry of polar regions:  The impact of climate change is progressing much faster in polar environments as compared to lower latitudes. Dr. Winkelmann's group is currently exploring how greater rates of terrestrial input is affecting the organic geochemistry of arctic sediments. In the Antarctic, levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are being measured in benthic communities.

Focus Areas