Project Details


Kinetics of abiotic and biotic chemical reactions in both natural and contaminated environmental systems will be studied. Investigations will transcend multiple temporal and spatial scales and chemical systems in order to gain insight into the ways molecular scale behavior affect the macroscopic world. The Institute is organized into three interest groups focusing on the processes of dissolution, precipitation, and microbial reactions at surfaces. Each interest group will study reactions across the molecular, microscopic, mesoscopic and, in most cases, field scales. Each interest group is studying the same families of materials (oxides of Fe, Mn, Al; feldspars and silica; Mg, Ca, Fe minerals) in order to integrate the Institute across interest groups. For example, dissolution reactions of ferromagnesian silicates may play a role in groundwater quality because toxic metals may be present in these natural mineral phases. Study of this natural process and the effect it has on groundwater quality is useful in its own right, and may also prove relevant to ferromagnesian silicate conversion into carbonate minerals, a process that is under investigation for a possible role in CO2 sequestration. In addition, the abiotic dissolution and precipitation reactions of these phases will provide the baseline for kinetic behavior as the third interest group researches the interaction of micro-organisms with these same minerals. The attachment of bacteria and redox chemistry that occurs between micro-organisms and minerals are critical factors in maintaining groundwater quality and remediation of many toxic waste sites.

Physicochemical and microbiological processes taking place at environmental interfaces influence natural processes as well as the transport and fate of environmental contaminants, the remediation of toxic chemicals, and the sequestration of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. A team of scientists and engineers has been assembled to develop and apply new experimental and computational techniques to create a database for environmental kinetics. A cohort of talented and diverse students will be trained to work on these complex problems at multiple length scales. Development of the human resources capable of translating molecular-scale information into parameters that are applicable in real world, field-scale problems of environmental kinetics will be a major and relatively unique outcome of the Institute's efforts. Interactions between the applied and academic scientists will drive research approaches aimed toward solving important problems of national interest. Examples of the roles molecular processes play in understanding and managing environmental problems will be used to create 3-D movies to be shown on GeoWall screens at The Pennsylvania State University Earth & Mineral Sciences museum and at traveling exhibits throughout the region.

Environmental Molecular Science Institute (EMSI) awards are given to interdisciplinary teams of university, industrial and/or national laboratory scientists working on problems aimed at increasing fundamental understanding of natural processes and processes resulting from human activities in the environment at the molecular level. The emphasis in these awards is on collaborative research among teams with complementary research interests and the creation of broad educational experiences for students. The Penn State EMSI team is a partnership among 12 faculty at The Pennsylvania State University (funded by the National Science Foundation Divisions of Chemistry and Earth Sciences) and four researchers drawn from Los Alamos National Laboratories, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (funded by the Department of Energy Division of Environmental Remediation Sciences).

Effective start/end date9/1/048/31/11


  • National Science Foundation: $6,764,278.00


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