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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

Clean water flowing into cupped hands

The third-year PhD student’s work developing metal doped silica beads for environmental applications has been recognised by the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research (CSAR) as ‘outstanding research with real-world application’.

David’s work in our Colloidal Dispersion’s group, under the supervision of Professor Alex Routh, looks to tackle the issue of removing organic dyes from wastewater streams.

Synthetic dyes are used across the textiles, paint, plastic, food and cosmetic industries. In the global textile industry alone, over 10,000 tonnes of dyes are used every year, with 10-15% of these released as effluents in wastewater. As a result, textile production is the second biggest water polluter in the world, exceeded only by the agricultural industry. The immediate impact of this pollution on water quality has substantial knock-on effects on both human and aquatic life. Various treatment methods using chemical, physical and biological approaches exist. However, they are often expensive, slow and can generate extra waste, causing additional toxicity issues.

David is developing composite silica beads that can degrade synthetic dyes in water using UV-light and be easily recovered after treatment. Those beads are produced via agglomeration in emulsion of three different nanoparticles: silica – a cheap, biocompatible and easily functionalised material; titanium dioxide – a photocatalytic material; iron oxide – a magnetic material. The beads can be prepared quickly and cheaply, at ambient conditions, with no toxic or harmful chemicals needed. The composite design allows the properties to be tuned by changing the shape and size of the particles and increasing their porosity. The particles are then added to dye-contaminated water, which is treated with UV light, triggering photodegradation of the dye compound. Because the particles are magnetic, they can easily be recovered after treatment using a magnetic field and reused on further water samples.

“Our experiments have proved the easy preparation of a tuneable system offering adsorption, magnetic and photocatalytic properties,” says David. “We’re currently investigating its use in degrading dyes with different chemical backbones and will be submitting those results for publication very soon.”

The CSAR PhD Student award runs every year, with a 5% success rate, and is intended to recognise outstanding research with real world application and provide financial support to students pursuing their research careers. David was one of 11 winners of the award, from an initial pool of over 200 applicants.

“I was both surprised and delighted to receive this award, considering the amazing projects presented by other applicants,” says David. “I am glad to have been able to convince the CSAR committee of the potential of our newly developed system. This award will be a big help to support my attendance at coming conferences.”

“This award is a fantastic and thoroughly deserved recognition of David’s work,” says Professor Alex Routh. “He has extended our groups work on microcapsules into novel areas which will be able to make a real word difference to pollution control. We are hoping to use these capsules for drug delivery and this will be the exciting final part of David’s thesis.” 

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