This summer, chemistry students and faculty searched for solutions to the harmful effect contaminants have on the water supply.
As members of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Elana Stennett’s research group this summer, Kara Gilleland ’23, Lauren Jackson ’23 and Alexandra Davidson ’24 investigated chemical interactions that facilitate or hinder water purification — research with important but uncertain implications.
“Students and faculty are on the same level — neither knows what the answer will be,” Stennett says, which means that lab work gives students the full experience of the scientific process.
Gilleland wrapped up a group project about how model systems affect the study of water fouling, while Jackson continued an investigation of the impact amino acids have on the fouling process. Davidson explored inexpensive and efficient ways to remove hazardous chemicals like polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and hydrochlorothiazide (HCT).
“Scientists are becoming more aware of how dangerous PFAS chemicals are,” Stennett explains. “What made them great chemicals also makes them incredibly hard to remove from the water supply. So, we have begun to think of ways that we can use our knowledge about membrane-based water purification techniques to help in removing these chemicals during wastewater treatment.”
The student researchers worked independently “but there was some overlap — especially with Kara and me — so we could help each other out in the lab,” says Davidson, adding that
“Professor Stennett was the first person who encouraged me to do research at HWS and after working with her, I plan to continue that research during the school year. She works so incredibly hard and inspires her students to do the same.”
“From my perspective, performing research really helps students become independent thinkers,” explained Stennett. “While there are a ton of different ways to use their chemistry or biochemistry degrees, research provides a new perspective about what it means to be a chemist.”
In the photo above, Alexandra Davidson ’24 works in the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Elana Stennett.