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Lafayette professors of physics, chemical engineering, and civil and environmental engineering have received a $49,832 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue faculty-student research on a method to improve water and wastewater treatment.

Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is principal investigator on the project, titled “Magnetic Effect on Ion Exchange Treatment of Electrolyte Solutions.” He is joined by Javad Tavakoli, associate professor and head of chemical engineering, and Andrew Dougherty, associate professor of physics.

They will work for a second consecutive summer with Trustee Scholar Katie Barillas ’04, a chemical engineering major from Bethlehem, Pa. “The students are the ones who carry out the experiments, so they’re extremely important,” notes Kney.

In its acceptance letter for Lafayette’s grant application, NSF noted that the project has great potential significance. “This exploratory research could provide important information for the removal of heavy metals by using a process which combines ion-exchange chromatography and a magnet field,” stated NSF.

The search for new, environmentally acceptable technologies to treat industrial wastewater, or broader applications of existing methods, has been ongoing for three decades.

“Ion exchange and magnetic field application are two technologies that are used in industry for the treatment of process water,” says Kney. “Any new information in the application of these two established technologies will serve to catalyze rapid and innovative advances in the fields of water and wastewater treatment.”

The professors will investigate the combined effects of ion exchange and magnetic fields in the treatment of synthetic waste streams containing heavy metals. They will use a groundbreaking process to examine the magnetic field effect on the kinetics and selectivity of selected ion exchange materials in electrolyte solutions containing lead, nickel, cadmium, copper, and zinc. The effects of ion concentration, ion-exchange material, magnetic field intensity, and the method of magnetic exposure will be examined.

The complexity of the research requires the cooperation of professors from three departments. Dougherty will examine the structure of atoms and how they react with magnetic fields, Tavakoli will lend process engineering expertise in setting up tests, and Kney will seek application of the research in an inexpensive, possibly chemical-free method of water and wastewater treatment.

“The successful completion of this study could lead to a new technique for treatment of complex waste streams containing heavy metals, which would be environmentally plausible and economically reasonable,” says Kney. “Furthermore, the results of this research could help to explain the underlying mechanism of a magnetic field-initiated remediation in the water/wastewater industry and possibly other magnetic field-based research, such as biological research.”

Last summer, Barillas worked on the project with Kney, Tavakoli, and Marquis Scholar Jessica Molek ’03, a chemical engineering major from Reedsville, Pa. Barillas says the work stretched her intellectual horizons and influenced her career outlook.

“I have dreamed of what it would be like to work for a research and development department of a large company, and this particular experience is quite similar to that,” says Barillas, who will start her work after returning from a semester studying in Brussels, Belgium. “Lafayette is small enough that you can approach a professor for just about anything. Lafayette also has some good facilities to work in that allow for research that most people wouldn’t dream of until graduate school.”

Working in Hugel Science Center, Lafayette’s new a $25 million, 90,000-square-foot facility for chemistry, physics, and biochemistry, and the future Acopian Engineering Center, which is undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation, the researchers will have excellent facilities and equipment for their work, adds Kney.

“The departmental facilities in civil and environmental engineering, chemical engineering, and physics are among the finest in any undergraduate college in the nation, and include spacious, state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and computers, instrumental and stockroom facilities, seminar rooms, and electronic classrooms,” he says.

A member of the Lafayette faculty since 1999, Kney earned a bachelor of arts degree in biology from Saint Francis College and a bachelor’s of science magna cum laude in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts, as well as a master’s degree in civil engineering and Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Lehigh University. He served as a site investigator with Merritt/Osborn Environmental Consulting Inc. in Newtown, Pa., from 1990-1999.

Kney has published several articles on research related to the NSF project, including a paper with Tavakoli and Molek in the 2001 Conference Proceeding for the Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and another with them presented at the 2001 National Conference on Undergraduate Research. He is a member of the ASCE/Environmental & Water Resources Institute, served as vice president of the Lehigh Valley Section of ASCE from 2000-2001, and has been a member of Lucent Technology’s Local Environmental Advisory Group since 1997.

Dougherty joined the Lafayette faculty in 1989 and has been associate professor of physics since 1996. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics summa cum laude from St. Joseph’s University and a Ph.D. in physics from University of Pennsylvania. He has published several articles in Physical Review and others in Proceedings of the Computational Crystal Growers Workshop and Journal of Crystal Growth.

Tavakoli joined the Lafayette faculty in 1989 and has been associate professor of chemical engineering since 1994. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Shiraz University in Iran, a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology. He served as a research scientist at Energia Inc. in Princeton, N.J., from 1987-1989.

Tavakoli has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a number co-authored with Lafayette students. Most recently, those include Molek; Marquis Scholar Dan Connolly ’02, a chemical engineering major from Meadville, Pa.; Catriona Mhairi Duncanson ’03, an A.B. engineering major from Basking Ridge, N.J.; and Vilas Menon ’02, of Chandigarh, India, who is pursuing a B.S. in chemical engineering, A.B. in International Studies, and A.B. in French.

Tavakoli also has served as a consultant for Air Products and Chemicals Inc. in Allentown, Pa.; Energia, Inc.; Berty Reaction Engineers Ltd. in Fogelsville, Pa.; the University of Pennsylvania chemical engineering department; and the New York Department of Environmental Protection.

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