Scientific gains made within the Wooster community

Paul Edmiston, associate professor of chemistry, biology and molecular biology has received a $136,269 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to allow for the continued study of Osorb, a substance Edmiston discovered serendipitously while carrying out research on a separate and unrelated study.† Osorb is a glass substance capable of purifying water by absorbing and thus removing organic contaminants from water, and with this grant Edmiston hopes to further extend the use of this substance as a potential purification method in soil and underground water sources as well.

There are several specifically unique properties and abilities of the substance Osorb that allow it to be such a pivotal discovery for the environmentally conscious world today.† Osorb is hydrophobic, meaning that it neither absorbs water nor dissolves in water; it will only expand in water if there is a foreign chemical or solvent present.

This property alone has significant global implication, for this allows for foreign solvents to be fully removed from water leaving behind completely purified water.† In events such as oil spills or other damaging leaks of chemicals and pollutants into bodies of water and water sources, Osorb can potentially be used to eradicate those disasters and purify the water completely of all unwanted chemicals.

A second remarkable property of Osorb is that it is reusable; once it absorbs a substance Osorb can be taken and separated back from the substance it absorbed and it again reduces to its original size and used again.† Using the example of an oil spill again, this reusable quality of Osorb not only allows for it to be used multiple times but also for the oil, or substance absorbed, to be recollected once separated after absorption from the Osorb and used again as well.† A third property of Osorb is that it generates a huge amount of force while it absorbs and can lift 20,000 times its weight as it is expanding.

The necessity of removing chemicals and pollutants from water is an issue that hits close to home here in Wooster, where a chemical called trichloroethylene has been found to have sunk into the ground and underground water sources and contaminated the water.

Trichloroethylene was predominantly found in products such as paint thinner and gasoline throughout the 20th century, and was common because it is inflammable.† However, it has now been established that the chemical is not only very dense and extremely stable and therefore hard to break down, but it is also a carcinogenic substance.† This is a reoccurring issue across most of the country, and here in Wooster there are at least two underground plumes of this chemical that are leaking into our water supply causing much of the water available to be unusable because of contamination.† Edmiston is now using his recent NSF grant to develop ways in which to inject the Osorb substance into the soil and underground water sources to be able to exterminate harmful substances like the trichloroethylene.

This form of Osorb that Edmiston is developing to eradicate pollutant chemicals underground is similar to the Osorb used in removing chemicals from water with the exception that iron is added to the substance.† The iron particles can react with the trichloroethylene relatively quickly and further break it down into byproducts that Osorb can then absorb and extract from the water supplies, leaving clean, purified water.

Edmiston refers to Osorb as a ìnano-expanding sponge” when asked to explain the properties and capabilities of the substance because of its ability to absorb contaminants, pesticides, drugs and chemical solvents.

This kind of absorbent substance has never before been discovered, making this catalystic research for what will eventually lead to further research of this substanceís capacity and magnitude for the purpose of purification in the future.