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Synthesis of Metal‐Binding Polymers for Water Purification

Grant Winners

  • Patricia Calvo, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences
  • Blanch Khouri‐Sader – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences


  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences


Award Winners Water is one of the most precious resources on our planet, making up roughly two thirds of the earth's surface. Despite the abundance of water, access to clean water has become increasingly difficult. Decades of industrial activities and neglect for the environment have contributed to water pollution. Common pollutants include heavy metals, which are toxic and carcinogenic not only to humans but also to aquatic life. Removal of heavy metal contaminants is a critical part of water purification. While several methods exist, the use of polymers to bind heavy metals offers many advantages over comparable methods, such as improved efficiency and elimination of harmful byproducts. The goal of this project is to synthesize a series of metal chelating polymers to determine which type of polymer results in the most efficient binding to a series of metals. By altering the structure of the polymers and the identity of the chelating group, this research will help elucidate the importance of polymer structure and functionality on metal binding efficiency. The polymers will be synthesized via a modular approach, which enables the study of many different metal-chelating polymers while minimizing the synthetic complexity. A single polymer can be functionalized with a variety of metal binding groups, creating a library of metal chelating polymers for detailed binding studies. Metals of interest include common heavy metal water contaminants, such as Zn, Ag, Ni, Pb, V, Cu, Cr, and Cd. While the ability to remove metal ions from solution is the primary goal of the project, evaluating the recovery of the bound metal from the polymers is also of interest. Many of the heavy metals that contaminate water are valuable resources, so the recovered metal could be sold after isolation. This would help offset the cost of the water-purification process and present a more sustainable approach in the long run. At the conclusion of this project we will have identified a polymer structure and functionality that is most effective in binding metal-contaminants and demonstrates the highest percent recovery of the bound metal.
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