Environmental NanoChemistry Lab (ENCL) at WUStL

Our group research is highly interdisciplinary as our aims explore the environmental impacts of human activities through improved understanding of the fate and transport of contaminants and nanoparticles, and the biogeological cycling in complex environmental systems from nanoscale to macroscale, with a view to conserving sound environmental systems.

Our group research involves a more comprehensive analysis of energy-related subsurface operation systems, including geologic CO2 sequestration, and conventional and unconventional oil and gas recovery, hydrothermal energy, and nuclear waste disposal. Based on our strong scientific understanding of nanoscale interfacial chemistry and solid nucleation, we seek for innovation for sustainable water. We develop new treatment techniques and new catalysts for purifying drinking water and remediating contaminated water and soil, benefiting water reuse, managed aquifer recharge, and membrane processes (reverse osmosis membrane and ultrafiltration). In addition, the ENCL investigates biomineralization and bio-inspired chemistry for novel materials development for the environment.

The Environmental NanoChemistry Laboratory is well-equipped with various water chemistry instruments, reverse osmosis membrane test bench reactor and a high pressure pump, nanoparticle synthesis setups including thermo-controlled systems, five sets of high-pressure and high-temperature controlled syringe pumps (Teledyne ISCO, Lincoln, NE) and Hastelloy C bench scale reactors (Parr Company, IL), and in situ SAXS microreactors for supercritical CO2 experiments. Our group also has two sets of high pressure and high temperature pH electrodes (Corr Instrument, TX), which enables us to monitor in situ pH conditions in the CO2–H2O-mineral systems.

For in situ microscopic observations of surface reactions under aqueous conditions, our group has installed an Atomic Force Microscopy (Veeco, Nanoscope V) with the capability of changing electrochemical conditions and temperatures (up to 60 oC). The AFM room is strictly isolated from sound and vibration in order to resolve atomic-scale surface changes. In addition, we possess an atmospheric chamber with catalyst fan boxes which can host the entire AFM setup, allowing various atmospheric- and temperature-controlled experiments for redox sensitive reactions.

To prepare a thin coating of organic matter, we use a Spin Processor (Laurell Technologies, PA) in our lab. Our lab also has a Contact Angle Analyzer (Phoenix 300, Surface Electro Optics Co. Ltd) for surface hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity and surface tension measurements and an Ion Chromatography (Dionex ICS-1600) for anions and organic acid concentration measurements. We also have a high pressure and temperature Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscope (FTIR) and a UV/VIS spectroscope. For photochemical and photothermal tests, we utilize a 450W Xenon Arc lamp setup (Newport) and solar chamber (Xe-1-BC, Q-Lab Corporation) to simulate the sunlight exposure.

For quantitative and qualitative analyses of experimental samples, we will utilize scanning electron microscopy (SEM)-Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) and SEM-Backscattered electron spectroscpy (BSE), regular and high resolution transmission electron microscopy (HR-TEM) from the  Institute of Materials Science and Engineering (IMSE) and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), Microprobe, and X-ray diffraction (XRD) from the Earth and Plenatary Science department. In addition, we use inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS, 7500ce, Agilent Technologies, CA), ICP-optical emission spectrometry (OES), BET, total organic carbon (TOC) analyzer, gas chromatography-FID, and Zetasizer instrument (Dynamic Light Scattering and Zeta Potential Measurement, Nano ZS, Malvern Instruments Ltd.), at the Jens Molecular & Nanoscale Analysis Laboratory (Departmental Common Instrumental Facility) and Nano Reseach Facility (NSF funded common facility). To create standard nanoparticle deposted substrates with known coverages, we use a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) method. We also often utilize Raman Confocal Microscopy (Renishaw, U.K.) from the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science for solid phase identification.

One of our main experimental approaches is utilizing synchrotron-based X-ray techniques at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory such as small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), grazing incidence SAXS (GISAXS), wide angle X-ray scattering (WAXS) or high energy total scattering for pair distribution function analysis, and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). As of April 2021, we have earned 123 successful beamtime allocations at Synchrtron X-ray natioanl facilities.

For thermodynamic calculations, our group use Geochemists’ Workbench (GWB, Release 8.0, RockWare, Inc.), MINEQL+, and visual MINTEQ.

For reactive transport modeling, we have been collarboating with Dr. Carl I. Steefel at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and using CrunchTope to predict the contaminant and elemental transport aspects at multiscale.

The NAE Committee on Engineering's Grand Challenges has identified 14 areas  awaiting engineering solutions in the 21st century. Please visit the national academy of engineering website for more detailed information.

Among 14 grand challenges, our research group actively involves in two areas: (1) Provide access to clean water and (2) Develop carbon sequestration methods.

(figure source: The National Academy of Engineering)

The goals of Environmental NanoChemistry Lab are well-aligned with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals(Figure source: The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals)

Additional Instrumentation List

EECE Department Facilities

Institute of Materials Science and Engineering (IMSE) 

National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN)

Funding Support

We gratefully acknowledge support from the following agencies and programs:

Washington University in St. Louis

Extramural Funding Agencies and Companies