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action,¡± she adds. ¡°The result is a self-supported water remediation targeted photo-
catalytic technology that has no precedent.¡±
In the fall of 2011, Gouma was the first scientist to receive a $50,000 NSF Innovation
Corps (I-Corps) award, which supports a set of activities and programs that prepare
scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory into the com-
mercial world.
Such results may be translated through I-Corps into technologies with near-term
benefits for the economy and society. It is a public-private partnership program
that teaches grantees to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge
from academic research, and offers entrepreneurship training to faculty and student
¡°The I-Corps program was very useful for the students,¡± she says. ¡°It got them
involved, and got them to realize that there is a practical application to what they do.
It was extremely useful for them to see how something developed in the lab could be
used in the field, and that you actually can start a business from something started in
the lab.¡±
She and her team are in the process of creating a startup business, they have two
patents pending on the process, with the hope of scaling up production and carrying
out pilot studies.
¡°We want to demonstrate feasibility in the real world, and then produce them in
large quantities,¡± she says. ¡°We have proof of principle that our technology can be
useful. Our technique works in the lab. We now need to make sure that it works in
the field.¡±
- Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation (source:
Nanogrid Invention Cleans Oil, Decontaminates Water
¡°New Catalyst¡± Likely To Revolutionize Clothes Washing
The Starship lands
in Telluride... Pg 12
lovely weather for
a sleigh ride... Pg 11
The model railroad
train show... Pg 14
Colorado Birding
Trail expands... Pg 10
Oil spills do untold damage to the environment, to the
waters they pollute and to marine and other wildlife. The
Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, for
example, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the his-
tory of the petroleum industry, flowed unabated for three
Typically, such oil spills are extraordinarily difficult to clean
up. Soon, however, the process may become infinitely easier
and ecologically friendly, the result of a new invention by a
National Science Foundation (NSF) supported scientist.
Pelagia-Irene (Perena) Gouma, a professor in the Depart-
ment of Materials Science and Engineering at the State
University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook, created a
novel ¡®nanogrid¡¯, a large net consisting of metal grids made
of a copper tungsten oxide, that, when activated by sunlight,
can break down oil from a spill, leaving only biodegradable
compounds behind.
¡°We have made a new catalyst that can break down hydro-
2013 december/january #4-11
carbons in water, and it does not contaminate the water,¡± says Gouma, who also
directs SUNY¡¯s Center for Nanomaterials and Sensor Development. ¡°It utilizes the
whole solar spectrum and can work in water for a long time, which no existing pho-
tocatalyst can do now. Ours is a unique technology. When you shine light on these
grids, they begin to work and can be used over and over again.
¡°Something like this would work fine for any oil spill,¡± Gouma adds. ¡°Any ship can
carry them, so if they have even a small amount of spill, they can take care of it.¡±
Initially, the grids, which resemble non-woven mats of miniaturized ceramic fishing
nets, probably will be used for oil spills, although they potentially could prove valu-
able in other applications, such as cleaning contaminated water produced by ¡®frack-
ing¡¯, the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale, and as well
as from other industrial processes.
¡°Fracking is a reality,¡± she says. ¡°It is happening. If the science and engineering we
produce in the lab can help alleviate environmental problems, we will be happy
about that.¡±
Because they work well both in water and air, they also could be a chemical-free,
possibly even water-free, method of cleaning clothes in the future. ¡°The dry cleaning
process that we now use involves a lot of contaminants that have to be remediated
and treated, such as benzene,¡± she says. ¡°This could be a dry cleaning substitute that
would be more environmentally friendly than current
dry cleaning approaches.¡±
Moreover, ¡°imagine you lay this over your clothes,
and expose them to light. You won¡¯t need a washing
machine, or chemicals, or even water,¡± she adds.
The photocatalytic nanogrids invented in her lab are
made by a unique self-assembly process that occurs
¡°during the nanomanufacturing on non-woven nano-
fibrous mats deposited on metal meshes,¡± according to
Gouma. ¡°Upon heating, metal clusters diffuse inside
polymeric nanofibers, then turn into single crystal
nanowires, then oxidize to form metal oxide -ceramic-
nanoparticles, that are interconnected, like links in a
chain,¡± she says.
These form an unusual and ¡°robust third architecture
that allows for the highest surface area, providing maxi-
mum exposure to the contaminant to be remediated,
while the nanoscale particle sizes enable fast catalytic
An artistic rendering of a nanogrid. Photocatalytic
nanogrids utilize the whole solar spectrum, can work in
water for a long time and can be used over and over again.
¡°Imagine you lay this over your clothes, and expose
them to light. you won¡¯t need a washing machine, or
chemicals, or even water.¡± - Pelagia-Irene (Perena) Gouma, Professor,
Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering, State University of New York