NSF-funded scientists to examine environment at the molecular level

October 30, 2000

New institute to study chemistry of natural environment

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $19 million over five years to scientists seeking to distinguish, at the molecular level, between natural and human-caused environmental processes.

Eight grants awarded by NSF's Division of Chemistry will allow the creation of national models of collaborative research aimed at understanding the natural environment and addressing global environmental challenges. The research, to be conducted at a new Environmental Molecular Science Institute (EMSI) at Ohio State University and by seven small interdisciplinary groups at other institutions, is ultimately expected to contribute to beneficial environmental technologies and processes.

"Solving the many environmental problems confronting our 21st-century society will require an understanding of processes at the molecular level and a translation of this understanding to the global level," said Robert Eisenstein, NSF's director of mathematical and physical sciences. "These scientists and engineers will combine chemistry with other disciplines to address those challenges."

Each project will provide a forum for academic scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to work with industrial colleagues and with students. Education and outreach are critical features of the scientific programs.

The EMSI at Ohio State will study the role of molecular reactions in sites contaminated with many common pollutants, including dyes, solvents and refinery waste. The institute will bring together researchers from fields such as chemistry, public health, civil and environmental engineering, geological sciences and chemical engineering. Researchers from Boston College, Princeton University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Argonne National Laboratory and several private companies will participate.

The other seven awards will support groups of three to five investigators at Johns Hopkins University, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, University of California at San Diego, University of Kentucky, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Each will address a specific aspect of environmental science, such as the development of "green" processes for chemical reactions involving halogens, the binding and release of contaminants in soil and water, and the study of airborne particulate matter.

This year's awards follow the initial establishment of three EMSIs in 1998 at Columbia, Northwestern and Princeton Universities. Those institutes, also funded for five years, are studying problems such as the role of catalytic oxidation in waste clean-up and emission reduction; the molecular mechanisms determining the fate and effect of trace metals in the environment; and how metal-based enzymes, important in global nitrogen and carbon cycles, affect marine ecosystems.
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For more information see: http://www.nsf.gov/mps/chem/emsi98.htm

Media contact:
Amber Jones
703-292-8070
aljones@nsf.gov

Program contact:
Joseph Akkara
703-292-4946
jakkara@nsf.gov

National Science Foundation

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