Seed grant recipients announced

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Water Institute (WI) and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) are pleased to announce that four research teams have been awarded funding in their inaugural joint seed grant competition.

This combined seed grant program was created to stimulate new inter-disciplinary collaboration, facilitate interaction with international authorities, encourage new areas of research and support development of research proposals.

Specifically, the inaugural WI/WIN seed grants will target new research or technology development at the intersection of water and nanotechnology that addresses contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), including microplastics, potentially causing ecological or human-health impacts.

“The WI is thrilled to collaborate with WIN in supporting new interdisciplinary research collaborations that aim to develop new, innovative applications of nanotechnology to address contaminants of emerging concern in water environments,” said Roy Brouwer, Executive Director, the Water Institute, University Research Chair in Water Resources Economics.

“WIN is excited to partner with the WI to help and promote exciting cutting edge research addressing current and future global challenges in water technology and strengthening our commitments to UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Sushanta Mitra, Executive Director, Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN), Professor of Mechanical & Mechatronics Engineering.

The four seed grant recipient projects and teams are:

Investigating the colloidal behaviour of microplastics towards effective detection in aquatic environments

Co-Investigator WI: Philippe Van Cappellen, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Co-Investigator WIN: Boxin Zhao, Department of Chemical Engineering

This interdisciplinary team will investigate colloidal hydrodynamics together with emerging machine learning techniques that could be leveraged with existing environmental studies to devise effective ways to battle against microplastics pollution (MPs).

They hypothesize that the MPs dispersed in aqueous conditions could be considered as colloidal particles and that their dispersion, transport, and transformation in environments might be simulated in well-controlled laboratory conditions and studied from the perspective of colloidal hydrodynamics. The acquired insights would be coupled with existing environmental and oceanography studies, providing crucial understanding and finding an effective way to address the MPs.

Rapid detection of E. coli in water systems using microfluidic microwave sensor

Co-Investigator WI/WIN: Carolyn L. Ren, Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering
Co-Investigator WIN: Emmanuel A. Ho, School of Pharmacy

Rapid, accurate and affordable monitoring and warning systems for the detection of E. coli in water are urgently needed.

This project aims to explore the potential of electrical sensors that have demonstrated tremendous potential for point-of-care applications ranging from disease progression to food quality control, and biomedical research due to their fast response and compact size.

The development of a novel microwave-based biosensor for detection of the E. coli strain STEC within a minute, based on the following working principle is proposed. The sensor will be functionalized with nanomaterials to selectively capture E. coli from the water sample. To ensure a wide adoption by potential end-users, affordability is accounted for by developing a new fabrication method that enables low-cost printed circuit board to be used for making microwave sensors.

In addition, a low-cost palm-sized vector network analyzer that operates within 1-4 GHz will be employed for collecting the microwave signal.

Hyper-efficient gas transfer nanobubble systems for enhanced degradation of endocrine-disrupting compounds and environmental estrogens

Co-Investigator WI: Mark Servos, Department of Biology
Co-Investigator WIN: Norman Zhou, Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering

This research group hypothesizes that Endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) can be removed using nanobubbles to enhance ozone-based advanced oxidation process or enhance activated sludge processes using oxygen.

The research proposition is new as the research team has never utilized this technique before for treating CECs and are investigating new assays to determine biological responses to estrogen compounds. The main focus of this project is developing an ozone nanobubble generator to treat environmental estrogens in wastewater effluents.

Preliminary data could contribute to environmental remediation pilots, aquaculture studies, and more.

Towards Synergistic Design of Methodology for Electrochemical Treatment of 1,4-dioxane and Similar CEC

Co-Investigator WI: Anna Klinkova, Department of Chemistry
Co-Investigator WIN: XiaoYu Wu, Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering

1,4-dioxane (dioxane) is a semivolatile cyclic ether used as a stabilizer in chlorinated solvents and in manufacturing of various commodities such as pharmaceuticals and filters. It has been increasingly identified in surface water and groundwater as it is highly miscible in water and inefficiently removed from wastewaters due to the high stability of this compound.

There is a pressing need to develop an alternative cost-effective and sustainable oxidative dioxane removal technology. This team will explore electrooxidative treatment as an emerging approach.

The team proposes to comprehensively study the potential for this technology by synergistically assessing the prospective performance improvement of the rational design of earth-abundant catalysts/electrocatalytic system for dioxane oxidation and technoeconomic (TEA) and life-cycle (LCA) assessment of this approach to establish figures of merit for the cost, energy efficiency and sustainability of the developed systems.

Congratulations to all of our research teams.

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