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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Removal of hazardous materials from aqueous solution using nanofiber membranes 

PI: Suhad Yasin,, University of Duhok
U.S. Partner: Vince Beachley, Rowan University
Dates: March 2018 - February 2021

Project Overview:

This project is focused on the study of the functions of nanofiber membranes and their use to remove heavy metals from aqueous solutions. In the short term, the researchers will study electrospinning parameters in order to design nanofibers from available waste materials in Kurdistan Region. Long-term goals include broadening the technology of electrospinning nanofiber membranes as an option to conventional membranes and polymer beads. The electrospun membrane, in particular, may be successfully applied in water treatment and biotechnology, where the removal of toxic materials requires materials with a high surface area. In addition to the high surface area, changes in the surface chemistry of the nanofibers may also do wonders for their performance.

Nanofiber technology has hugely impacted both science and engineering disciplines. The motivations for the miniaturization process of polymers are based on producing nano-sized fibers with superior properties (for example, excellent mechanical properties and a large surface area per unit mass) compared to microfiber and film. The functionalities of the polymers plus the unique characteristics of nanofibers originated from them and being engineered in various forms have allowed nanofibers to be used in advanced applications such as filtration, multifunctional membranes, composite reinforcement, tissue engineering scaffolds, drug delivery, and wound dressings. As for water purification, a very important application in water-scare areas such a Iraq, adsorption is a technique that can potentially achieve high yields of heavy metal removal even for low concentration effluents. It can be a more cost-effective process to remove and recover heavy metals, based on the choice of adsorbent material. This PEER award will support fundamental research into a new adsorbent prepared from waste polymers. It will be the first research project in nanotechnology carried out at the University of Duhok. By providing opportunities for several researchers to gain firsthand experience in nanotechnology research, the program will help to improve the research infrastructure and enhance research collaboration both within the department and with the U.S. partner.

Summary of Recent Activities:

One of the key pieces of equipment for the project, an electrospinning machine, arrived the end of February, but given its sophistication, it required additional equipment to function. Over the course of the second quarter of 2019, the team worked with NASEM staff, the US partner, and the vendor to solve a number of problems related to it. This included a surge protector to protect the delicate instrument against Duhok’s unstable power supply as well as a particular type of syringe that was required for the model. As of May, all problems related to the spinning machine had been addressed and the team was able to begin experiments with the US partner’s input and guidance. The team was able to showcase their work at the 5th Kurdistan International Conference on Science and Technology and also demonstrated it to the UOD Vice President for Administrative Affairs, the Vice President for Scientific Affairs & Postgraduate Studies, and the Dean of College of Science following the conference.

In terms of outreach and collaborations, the project team has been very active. In Iraq, the team met with the director of the Duhok Directorate of Environment, Mohammed T. Salahalden Albrifcany, and discussed the project and current situation of polluted waters in Duhok. Outside of Iraq, the team participated in two conferences in Egypt at the beginning of March, the 3rd International Conference for Women in Science without Borders and Science Diplomacy for Sustainable Development. Not only were these events excellent opportunities to expand their network, but the team took the time to visit to tour the nanotechnology labs at Zewail City and the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute. At each institution, the team engaged with leading researchers who were keen on building collaborations with the PEER team as well as providing their advice on the project. Suhad Yasin was also interviewed by Nature Middle East about problems facing women scientists in the region which was published online in the May 2019 issue. BBC News also approached and interviewed her about her work and research in Iraq.

Moving forward, the team is planning on receiving two weeks of training in Malaysia to cement their knowledge of the electrospinning machine best practices.

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