Larese-Casanova Awarded CAREER Grant

Prof. Philip Larese-Casanova has received an NSF CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation for his work entitled “Quantum Dot Degradation in Aquatic Environments“. This five-year grant for $404,000 explores the behavior of quantum dots—semiconducting nanocrystals with extraordinary electrical properties featured in the next generation of consumer electronics and solar cells— within the environment upon their accidental release from product disposal or industrial waste streams. With the projected market volume for nanomaterial-based products approaching trillions of dollars annually, handling of these products and their waste will inevitably pose challenges to environmental health, particularly for metallic nanomaterials that may be toxic to aquatic organisms. Laboratory experiments will address how quantum dots change physically and chemically within lakes, rivers, and groundwater. The results are expected to identify important chemical reaction processes and to improve analytical chemistry methods for the detection and quantification of potentially toxic quantum dots in the water.

Dr. Larese-Casanova received his BS from the University of Connecticut and his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Some of his expertise areas include environmental chemistry and mineralogy, transformation of water pollutants and nanomaterial sorbents for water treatment.

Source: News @ Northeastern

For a scholar whose research focuses on aquatic envi­ron­mental chem­istry, Philip Larese- Casanova spends little time doing research in the envi­ron­ment. “I don’t take water sam­ples and I don’t go to drinking water plants or waste­water treat­ment plants,” said the assis­tant pro­fessor of civil and envi­ron­mental engi­neering.

That’s because most of the pol­lu­tants Larese- Casanova is inter­ested in haven’t been around long enough to make that kind of work fea­sible. Or, if the mate­rials them­selves aren’t brand new, the processes he’s inves­ti­gating are.

If we know how a mate­rial is going to behave, then we can design cleanup strate­gies,” he said. Under­standing the behavior has to come first. That is, how will this new material—when dis­persed in water and exposed to sun­light, for example—react with the nearby min­erals and organic mate­rial. Will it dis­solve in the water and be ingested by fish, or will it leach out into the soil?

Backed by funding from a recently awarded National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion CAREER grant, Larese- Casanova is expanding his research in metallic water pol­lu­tants to include quantum dots—mixed-metal mate­rials that are used in energy pro­duc­tion and elec­tronics and are smaller than even the smallest nano­ma­te­rials. As researchers learn more about quantum dots, they are primed to become a ubiq­ui­tous mate­rial in modern tech­nolo­gies. Under­standing their impact on the envi­ron­ment is there­fore crit­ical, Larese- Casanova said.

We have a good idea of how metallic nanopar­ti­cles behave in water because there’s a large body of research,” Larese- Casanova explained, “but now quantum dots are at even a smaller size.” By virtue of their size, the same metals can dis­play dras­ti­cally dif­ferent prop­er­ties in the environment.

The NSF grant has enabled Larese-Casanova’s team to acquire a device that blasts mol­e­cules apart into their com­po­nent ele­ments. “The goal is to use this instru­ment for simul­ta­neous mea­sure­ment of dis­solved and par­tic­u­late metals,” he said. The method will allow the team to inves­ti­gate the aquatic behavior of quantum dots at a variety of levels, mean­ingful once they reach our actual rivers and streams.

Quantum dots are already being researched in lab­o­ra­to­ries around the globe and may soon power our cell phones. Larese- Casanova wants to know what impact these tiny par­ti­cles will have on the aquatic sys­tems in which they end up. But that ques­tion cannot be answered without first under­standing the very basic level of quantum dot behavior in water.

I want to pro­tect our water resources,” he said. “There are so many aspects to the dis­cus­sion from drinking water to waste waters. I’d like to do my part.” While his part takes place in a series of beakers and vials on the lab­o­ra­tory bench top, it is clear that his work lays the nec­es­sary foun­da­tion for other researchers to build upon.

Related Faculty: Philip Larese-Casanova

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering