by Juliana Palomino
"You give me water of any kind, and I know how to treat it and make it drinkable or reusable."
Those are the words of University Alumni Professor of Chemical Engineering Dibakar Bhattacharyya. The director of the University of Kentucky Center of Membrane Sciences is renowned for his research into membranes for filtering and producing clean water. In 2017, Bhattacharyya, universally known as "DB," celebrated 50 years of prolific research at UK.
With its enormous amount of membrane activity, the center has received extensive international recognition, and DB has as well. DB and his research colleague, chemical engineering professor Isabel Escobar, are conference chairs for the 2018 North American Membrane Society Annual Meeting to be hosted by UK this June. Over 400 people from around the world will be expected at this conference.
"DB is one of the leading authorities in the world on membrane and water research," says Escobar. "He has given invited lectures in all continents but Antarctica. His name is known by all doing membrane research as one of the people always on the cutting edge."
Recently, DB and his team have received several notable grants for membrane research. The first is a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation which allocates $4.5 million for extensive research in bio-inspired membrane activities. A second five-year grant links DB with a toxicology group from the UK College of Medicine. The $1.8 million National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) grant called "Chloro-organic Degradation by Polymer Membrane Immobilized Iron-Based Particle Systems" focuses on solving Superfund site water and soil contaminant issues.
Located around the United States, these plots of land are contaminated by hazardous waste, and have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as needing cleanup because of the risk they pose to human health. They contain water polluted by highly toxic compounds, such as banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and trichloroethylene (TCE). The NIEHS is concerned with the negative health impacts of these compounds and has funded UK to research optimal ways to remove them.
Based on the success of the functionalized membrane development work through funding by NIEHS and NSF EPSCoR, DB received another research contract in December 2017 from Chevron Corporation of Richmond, California, to capture and remove toxic metals from oil production water.
In connection to this nationally significant water purification research, DB and his team are actively researching responsive materials.