Tufts Undergraduate Tackles Global Health Issue: Water Purification

Written by Claire Forgan, Tufts University ’16

Tufts University undergraduate and Chemistry major Jordin Metz is engaged in laboratory research on innovative water decontamination methods. “The project I’m working on is called the TI02 project, [which is] titanium dioxide. The goal of this project is water purification,” says Jordin.

Titanium dioxide, he explains, is a valuable compound that is found in a lot of different substances of everyday life. “We’re using it because it’s a really good photocatalyst. As in it absorbs UV light and do work with it. It takes each photon of light and then oxidizes something. For example, when it’s by itself in air it’s able to be basically 100% efficient.”

This photocatalyst can be used to eliminate bacteria in the air. “What is one thing in this world that everyone needs that is often dirty and has a lot of organic viruses and bacteria?” Jordin asks. He answers his own question, “water.”

However, the issue raised with using the titanium dioxide compound to cleanse water is that it is significantly less effective in water. The young researcher states, “turns out, it’s much, much less efficient in water, like 1% efficient instead of 100% efficient in air. So the project I work on is how can we modify the structure of titanium dioxide particles to make it more efficient in its oxidation?”

Jordin and his lab partners have brainstormed and developed ways to improve the efficiency of titanium dioxide in water. “By making [the compound] into these small uniform nanoparticles, like two and a half nanometers in diameter, it dissolves in water and is able to double the efficiency. And then we dope it. We replace one of the titaniums with an iron atom in each crystal. It actually triples the efficiency.” So the efficiency has gone from 1% to 6% efficient since the team has been working on the project. “The goal is to get past 15% efficient reliably,” says Jordin. 

This research is aimed towards solving, at least partially, a global issue. Jordin highlights the benefits of using this material: “The idea is that there’s this pretty safe, fairly cheap, really good photo oxidizer: titanium dioxide.”

The TI02 project has plans to reach further than they have before by taking on new approaches. Jordin Metz mentioned, “Later in the semester we’re going to try to do some stuff that no one has ever done. That’s really exciting.”

The Chemistry course that Jordin took as a freshman provided access to the research that he is currently doing. “[There were] 3 lectures a week but the 3rd lecture each week, instead of the curriculum, was bringing in a professor or grad student from a Chemistry or related department and just having them talk about their current research.”

He was very interested in this project from the start. “The professor I currently work with, when she spoke I was flabbergasted, I thought it was so cool.”

Jordin Metz is an ambitious undergraduate researcher that hopes to use his experience in the lab to fuel his goals for the future. “I think it’s such a big issue and it’s so cool that I’m getting to work on a solution like that and it makes me interested in other fresh water solutions because there are a lot and there isn’t going to be just one answer. I like the altruistic goal and I want to go out and help people with the science backed research that there is.”

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