Nanotechnology Project

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Environment, Health and Safety Research

Center for Advanced Materials for Water Purification

Project Information

Principal InvestigatorMark Shannon
InstitutionUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Project URLView
Relevance to ImplicationsSome
Class of NanomaterialEngineered Nanomaterials
Impact SectorEnvironment
Broad Research Categories Characterization
NNI identifierc4-13

Funding Information

Anticipated Total Funding$24,085,750.00
Annual Funding$4,014,291.67
Funding SourceNSF
Funding Mechanism
Funding Sector
Start Year2002
Anticipated End Year2008


The U.S. and the world are facing the very real dangers of depleted aquifers, inadequate surface water supplies, and contamination from a variety of sources including agricultural runoff, industrial discharges, acid rain, and ground-water pollutants. Waterborne pathogens are also a growing threat for water supplies. These dangers are expected to increase as populations continue to grow. Numerous technologies are being implemented to purify water, but current membrane and adsorbent materials used in water purification are not sufficient to solve all contamination problems and meet increasingly stringent new standards being proposed to protect health. The best state-of-the-art materials have well-known shortcomings that are due to shortfalls in the current understanding of the underlying science. Indeed, to develop the revolutionary new materials and systems for safe and economical water-purification technology needed to counter the impending water crisis requires a coordinated, intensive, multi-year effort of scientists and engineers. The vision of this Center is to forge multi-disciplinary groups of researchers, educators, and practitioners into a cohesive team with the overarching goal of developing new functional materials and systems to purify water for the peoples of the United States and the world. This Science and Technology Center (STC) has several distinguishing features. First and foremost, it provides coordinated participation of researchers in the following areas: water quality at Stanford and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), material science at UIUC, basic physical science (chemistry and physics) at the University of California at Berkeley, Clark Atlanta University, Stanford, and UIUC, and system-level experts at Stanford and UIUC. Furthermore, the Center facilitates the technology transfer and feedback from practitioners in water treatment through linkages with the UIUC Waste Management Research Center, and the Orange County (CA)Water District, as well as other water-quality organizations. Another distinguishing feature of the STC is its establishment of a collaborative laboratory (collaboratory) for its education, research, and outreach functions, to ensure the integration of the activities. In this multi-disciplinary collaboratory, chemists, material scientists, physicists, biologists, and engineers will work together with library and information-science experts in the Center to disseminate information and research results showing how to synthesize, characterize, and understand new material systems designed to separate compounds from water and/or transform them. The premise of this STC is that advanced, selective and efficient water-treatment technologies will be based on membrane filters, adsorbents, and catalytic surfaces. Rational development of the required materials requires a firm grasp of the basic science of the aqueous interface. The key issue is to observe and to manipulate on the Angstrom to nanometer scale interactions between the aqueous solution and the solid substrate. The goals of the STC are: (i) to advance the basic understanding of these interactions; (ii) to use the results to radically improve membranes, filters, adsorbents, and ion-exchange materials through the synthesis of new materials that are able to separate selectively and/or transform compounds in water; (iii) to integrate these new materials into viable water purification systems; and (iv) to integrate the human and knowledge infrastructure with the research mission to implement effectively the science and technology. To accomplish these goals, the STC is organized in four core teams: (i) Interfacial Processes and Molecular Characterization, (ii) Materials Synthesis and Development, (iii) System Analysis and Integration, and (iv) Collaboratory Education and Outreach. The Center supports education and outreach activities for: (i) K-12 teachers and students to learn why clean water is important and how fundamental research and sound engineering can help make water cleaner; (ii) underrepresented groups in science and engineering, encouraging members of such groups to pursue careers related to water purification, material science, and engineering; (iii) citizen groups, water industry professionals, and local governments to help formulate, debate, and implement policies related to water quality control; and (iv) the general public to understand the need for basic research on water purification. All constituent groups are supported by a web-based collaborative laboratory to support knowledge dissemination, mentoring, learning, public debate, and discussion. The main tool used for the collaboratory is the INQUIRY-based learning and research environment developed in the UIUC School of Library and Information Science, which allows two-way research and education to be conducted between the partners and all the participants and constituent groups of the Center. The STC seeks aggressively to increase diversity in education, research, and outreach. Diversity is essential for increasing the numbers of under-represented groups in science and technology. The STC can make the greatest impact if the knowledge and technologies developed are implemented throughout the U.S. and the world by diverse educators and researchers. To achieve this impact, the proposed STC has partnered with the Environmental Technology Consortium (ETC) of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority institutions (MIs) to increase minority participation. In addition, CAU is an active water-treatment research partner, which supports the training of a diverse group of students in water purification research. Due to the critical need for improved materials and processes for water purification, this STC has an immediate opportunity to transfer the knowledge gained from basic science and engineering research to the practitioners in the field. In addition to the usual modes of dissemination in conferences, proceedings, journal articles, and courses, the collaboratory two-way learning and research tools developed through the STC quickly transmit knowledge between the academic partners and the partner organizations.