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Nanotechnology: Cleaning up our Water

HOUSTON, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- He's just 37 years old, but he's already making a difference in the world! Now, Ivanhoe introduces a young engineer who's creating small solutions to big problems.

We've seen it in the movies -- polluted drinking water is a health and environmental concern. In fact, right now, 30 states need to clean up their groundwater. "They've been designated by the EPA as being highly contaminated, and they've got to do something about the contaminated water," Michael Wong, Ph.D., a chemical engineer at Rice University in Houston, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Wong is one of Smithsonian Magazine's America's Young Innovators and for good reason. He's trying to come up with a way to use nanoparticles to clean up our water. "Water is not just H2O. Water has all sorts of stuff in it and the stuff we don't want, those are the things that can really hurt you," Dr. Wong explains.

He's using nanoparticles made out of gold and palladium -- a metal related to platinum -- to get rid of chemicals. One of the most common pollutants in United States groundwater is trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent used to degrease metals. And it can cause cancer.

"Our idea was, let's go ahead and break it down -- break it down into something that's safer," Dr. Wong says. "Safer chemicals that won't hurt your body and hurt the animals and the fish and what not."

Wong uses nanoparticles -- ten thousand times smaller than a human hair -- and hydrogen to break TCE into something non-toxic. "We are going to pump water through this guy here and the water is being pumped from the bottom up," Dr. Wong explains.

Glass beads will help to hold the nanoparticles in place. "Then clean water comes out," Dr. Wong says.

Dr. Wong plans to test it at military sites first -- then move onto industrial sites and dry cleaning businesses. "I'd like to see our reactor do a really good job of getting rid of some of the contaminants," Dr. Wong says. Possibly, making our water and environment cleaner in the future. Dr. Wong says his reactor will be more efficient and cost less than the carbon reactors being used now.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Waterworks Association, and AVS contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Dr. Michael Wong
Chemical Engineer
Rice University
(713) 348-3511

American Geophysical Union
Washington, DC 20009-1277

American Water Works Association
Denver, CO
(303) 794-7711 or 1-800-926-7337

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A joint production of Ivanhoe Broadcast News and the American Institute of Physics. Partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
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