Environmental Chemistry

Research from the lab of Prof. Ken Roberts

This research is focused on the transport (and ultimate fate) of environmental pollutants. Many pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), products of incomplete combustion of carbon, are very hydrophobic, yet can be found in a variety of aquatic and other ecological systems. It is believed that PAHs and other hydrophobic pollutants are transported into the environment via encapsulation in humic acids or other vehicles such as clay and silica particles. Once in the environment, microbial remediation measures are in place to detoxify the pollutant. However, these processes are not completely understood, and more information is needed about the environmental parameters, microbial interactions, and metabolic response. Moreover, there is a growing need for developing sensitive and selective remote-sensing tools that can facilitate real-time monitoring of pollutants in situ. Several emerging tools such as diode lasers, fiber optics, portable spectrometers, and molecular imprinting make remote sensing possible. We are working towards applying these technologies to model systems for methods development and mechanistic studies of microbial remediation, followed by testing the applicability to local polluted ecosystems in Oklahoma. Furthermore, these advances in environmental technologies could provide insight on developing the course of action needed for restoration and remediation of contaminated ecosystems.