Research into Water Quality Receives NSERC Discovery Grant

Research being led by Dr. Ken Oakes, Industrial Research Chair in Environmental Remediation, Verschuren Centre, has been awarded $120,000 through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants competition. The research uses nanomaterials – materials that are really small sizes, about 100,000 times smaller than an average human hair – to clean water. This research will help protect human and environmental health by protecting water quality in Canada, and potentially globally.

“This NSERC funding is hugely important. We simply could not do the work otherwise and it further allows use to engage other small and medium enterprises in related research. In short, it facilitates opportunities and opens doors, which is critical,” says Dr. Oakes.

Nanomaterials may be small in size but have enormous potential.  Think of them as mini-workbenches with specific purposes or catalysts in chemical reactions. 

Here are some examples of their importance:

  • Titanium, a type of metal, if treated under specific conditions, can make titanium dioxide wires, which can be deposited onto another membrane to make a very fine filter that can remove tiny impurities from the water.
  • If nanomaterials are exposed to ultraviolet light, they can absorb this energy to promote an internal electron to a higher energy state, which leaves an electron hole where the electron formerly used to sit that is very reactive and can chemically destroy contaminants.
  • This same promoted electron can form reactive oxygen species, which are unbalanced in their outer valance electrons. As a result, they want to steal electrons from anything they encounter, which can help destroy waterborne pathogenic bugs that can make people drinking contaminated water sick.

“These exciting advancements demonstrate the promise of nanomaterials in water treatment applications,” adds Oakes.

Specifically, the funding will help support the salaries of leading researchers in this field, purchase lab supplies and fund instrument use, and support professional development.

The NSERC awards, which were announced this week, fund discovery in a variety of disciplines, including in chemistry, physics, life sciences, mathematics, computer science, earth sciences, and the many branches of engineering.

Read more about Dr. Oake’s Research Program.