Aug. 5, 1997 Kansas State University News Services 9 Anderson Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506-0117 (785) 532-6415; fax - (785) 532-6418 Cheryl May, director of news services, firstname.lastname@example.org
MANHATTAN - A special type of porous liquid-glass that acts almost like a sponge may help soak up environmental and biological problems in the future.
Maryanne M. Collinson, electrochemist at Kansas State University is conducting a research project titled "Electroanalytical Applications of Organically Modified Sol-Gel Materials."
Collinson said the materials that are created through the sol-gel process can be thought of as glasses at room temperature that have not been hardened by exposure to high levels of heat associated with creating actual glass. The "glass" used in their work is made out of a composite of both organic and inorganic materials.
It also has several qualities that can be compared to a sponge. The gel is very porous with many channels and cases that can be used to trap reagents, which can be substances used to detect or measure other substances or to convert one substance into another.
When certain reagents are trapped in the gel, they are able to react with other substances in the solution and change their properties, like turning a certain color - such as a transparent orange, green or yellow.
Collinson said they are studying the gel itself and how it influences the physical and chemical properties of the different reagents placed into it. She said in the future, scientists may be able to use the gel to analyze very specific molecules in places that contain many different materials.
"For example, one such application may involve the measurement of pesticides in well water," Collinson said. "There are lots of things in well water and if we want to measure only one particular pesticide and no other pesticide or other agent in the water, the gel may be able to do that. Then we can say, for example, there is one part per billion of that certain pesticide in the water or give some other value."
She said the more they learn about the gel, the more efficient they can make it at identifying specific molecules in complex solutions. Organic polymers are commonly used to trap molecules for analysis applications. These polymers have many good qualities, but are still imperfect, Collinson said.
"We're trying to develop a more stable, more sensitive, more selective material than the organic polymers commonly used to analyze compositions," Collinson said. "We want to optimize the properties of the gel we're working with, such as the pore size and the overall structure of the gel, so it will be a better analytical sensor than the current organic sensors used."
She said the gels her research group is working on have high mechanical, chemical and thermal stability relative to the conventional organic polymers because of their rigid, highly cross-linked structures. She also said the gel is more optically transparent than the organic polymers so it is easier to study the components of what is in the gel.
"Basically," she said, "we're combining organic and inorganic properties into one composite material so we can get the best of both worlds."
To further her research, Collinson received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development - CAREER - Award from the National Science Foundation. The $244,000 award for four years was granted in April 1996. Collinson has received three other grants from the National Science Foundation totalling nearly $50,000, and a Young Investigator award from the U.S. Navy for $133,000.
K-State's Vice Provost for Research, Tim Donoghue, said, "CAREER awards are intended to facilitate the early phases of the careers of the most promising scientists in the nation and are therefore highly competitive. This is indeed a true honor to be so recognized."
Since 1991, nine K-State young scientists have been chosen for special awards designed to help launch the early stages of a research and teaching career.
Prepared by Bree Bisnette. For more information contact Collinson at (913) 532-1468.
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