Environmental Chemistry

Ongoing environmental chemistry research at Florida Tech includes the study of naturally occurring and artificially introduced minerals and nanostructures in the environment. This research is often interdisciplinary, giving students the opportunity to work closely with marine scientists, environmental engineers, and biologists.

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.