Environment

 

 

Mercury is an infamous heavy metal, with well-known environmental and health impacts. Research within the Centre has identified a ner polymeric material, capable of detecting and capturing mercury. This materials is made by reacting sulfur (a waste product from the petroleum industry) with plant-based oils such as canola oil. The polymer is able to remove both palladium and mercury from water

 

The mining industry contributes significantly to the Australian economy (accounting for approximately 8.5% of Australia’s GDP in 2015), but also has the potential for considerable environmental damage. Research in the Centre looks at how environmentally friendly procedures can be implemented within the mining industry. In particular, one project aims to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in the separation of sulfide minerals. By using bacteria and bacterial metabolites, researchers are able to effectively separate pyrite and chalcopyrite without the use of industrial suppressants. The images below show the preferential bacterial attachment to pyrite (left) over chalcopyrite (right).

 

The Vortex Fluidic Device, invented by Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology’s Professor Colin Raston, produces unique reaction conditions in solution and has been applied to a range of problems, including improving the catalytic behavior of enzymes in solution. Though enzymes are highly efficient in biological systems, their performance outside of these systems often suffers. A collaborative project in partnership with the University of California has developed a method using the Vortex Fluidic Device to improve the catalytic behavior of enzymes which resulted in a 15-fold enhancement, on average.

Bioaccumulation of metal ions ion aquatic ecosystems is a complex process, with researchers in the Centre working to improve the ease with which these systems may be studied. In particular, a fluorescent marker which is activated by the presence of a mercury ion has been used to quantify the absorption and release of mercury in algae cells by measuring the photoluminescence intensity. This novel technique provides a green, sustainable approach to studying the accumulation of mercury in aquatic organisms.