Photo credit: Brice Vickmark
“'Today, I see people looking for these silver bullet solutions to solve environmental problems,' Plata says. 'That’s not how we got into this mess, and it’s not how we’re going to get out of it. The problem is really distributed, so what we really need is the sum of a lot of small actions to change the system.'".
Cultivating knowledge and connections: A privileged opportunity to share ideas and expertise during a Plata Lab group lunch with Prof. Urs von Gunten (head of the laboratory for Water Quality and Treatment at EPFL and the drinking water chemistry group at Eawag, Switzerland). Engaging discussions, lab tour, and focused project meetings marked an enriching day of collaboration and cross-disciplinary conversations.
Photo credit: Rebecca Brenneis
Congratulations, Elijah! Read about the award in the feature by MIT CEE News titled, "MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering students awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships".
See the videos titled "How to Change the Rate of Global Warming in our Lifetimes" and "Design for Degradation: Or Bust".
See the story on CEE News, titled "Mollie Wilkinson: Graduate Spotlight".
See the story on CEE News, titled "From PhD dissertations to startups, CEOs with connections to CEE spun their research into practice".
See the video on MIT News, titled "Investigating Our Blue Ocean Planet".
Since 1968, the MIT-WHOI Joint Program has provided research and educational opportunities for PhD students seeking to explore the marine world.
See the rest of the story on MIT News, titled "Rescuing small plastics from the waste stream".
Photo credit: Melanie Gonick
Michael, Eric and Wenbo's work published on ACS Nanoscience Au, titled "Photochemical weathering of polyurethane microplastics produced complex and dynamic mixtures of dissolved organic chemicals".Sunlight exposure can naturally mitigate microplastics pollution in the surface ocean, however it results in emissions of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) whose characteristics and fate remain largely unknown. In this work, we investigated the effects of solar radiation on polyether (TPU_Ether) and polyester (TPU_Ester) thermoplastic polyurethane, and on a thermoset polyurethane (PU_Hardened). The DOC released to the aqueous phase was quantified by total organic carbon analysis and characterized by nontarget liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry. Polyurethane microplastics were degraded following mechanisms reconcilable with UV photo-oxidation. Roughly three thousand unique by-products were released from photo-weathered TPUs, whereas 540 were detected in the DOC of PU_Hardened. This carbon pool was highly complex and dynamic in terms of physicochemical properties and susceptibility to further photodegradation after dissolution from the particles. Our results show that plastics photodegradation in the ocean requires chemical assessment of the DOC emissions in addition to the analysis of aged microplastics and that polymer chemistry influences the chain scission products.
Congratulations to Michael, Eric, Wenbo, and Desiree!!
Vittorio's work published on Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, titled "Photochemical weathering of polyurethane microplastics produced complex and dynamic mixtures of dissolved organic chemicals".Sunlight exposure can naturally mitigate microplastics pollution in the surface ocean, however it results in emissions of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) whose characteristics and fate remain largely unknown. In this work, we investigated the effects of solar radiation on polyether (TPU_Ether) and polyester (TPU_Ester) thermoplastic polyurethane, and on a thermoset polyurethane (PU_Hardened). The DOC released to the aqueous phase was quantified by total organic carbon analysis and characterized by nontarget liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry. Polyurethane microplastics were degraded following mechanisms reconcilable with UV photo-oxidation. Roughly three thousand unique by-products were released from photo-weathered TPUs, whereas 540 were detected in the DOC of PU_Hardened. This carbon pool was highly complex and dynamic in terms of physicochemical properties and susceptibility to further photodegradation after dissolution from the particles. Our results show that plastics photodegradation in the ocean requires chemical assessment of the DOC emissions in addition to the analysis of aged microplastics and that polymer chemistry influences the chain scission products.
Congratulations to Vittorio, and Desiree!!
Photo credit: Jake Belcher
Back row, from left to right: Timothy Holder, George Moore, Jorge Méndez, Dean Anantha Chandrakasan, Associate Dean Daniel Hastings, Matthew Rivera, Joseph Wasswa, and Steven Ceron. Front and middle rows, seated, from left to right: Maria Ramos Gonzalez, Michael Kitcher, Suhas Eswarappa Prameela, Molly Carton, Sofia Arevalo, and Ulri Lee. Not Pictured Matthew Clarke, Amy Fox, Kristina Monakhova, and Kimia Nadjahi. Photo: Grechen Ertl
"The program offers annual stipends for postdocs to pursue research and educational efforts that widen the scope and breadth of the school’s current work, while maintaining its commitment to excellence in engineering." See the story here.
(Top row) Kimberly Bennett, Diana Grass, and Bianca Lepe. (Bottom row) Anthony Meza, Omar Tantawi, and Richard Van.
Runako Gentles, Undergraduate Student
Dr. Megan O'Conner, CEO of Nth Cycle
The MIT Startup Exchange featured Nth Cycle and Plata Lab alum, Dr. Megan O'Connor CEO and co-founder in an article titled "A Cleaner Way to Recycle Batteries". The article discusses both the application of the electro-extraction technology to battery recycling and the economic opportunity Nth Cycle is uniquely positioned to capitalize on.
(Top row) S. Agrawal, J. Bessette, J. Brazier, A. Crease, G. Goldstein; (Middle) K. Gordon, E. Martin, M. N'Diaye, AJ Perez, P. Reynolds-Cuéllar; (Bottom) F. Riccio-Ackerman, J. Saadi, N. Singhasaneh, and J. Zong. Courtesy MIT (PHOTO: MIT Morningside Academy for Design )
See the rest of the story at MIT News, in an article titled "Developing community around design".
Congratulations, Dr. Eric Johnson!.
Desiree and Rebecca show the catalyst material for methane removal. (PHOTO: RYAN DEZEMBER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
Doctoral student Rebecca Brenneis' work on removing methane from air using a copper zeolite catalyst is featured in an article in The Wall Street Journal, titled "Cat Litter Could Be Antidote for Climate Change, Researchers Say". Briefly speaking, the catalyst material is made by soaking an odor-eating clay (zeolite) used in cat boxes in a copper solution. The material snatches methane from passing air and turns it into carbon dioxide, a much less harmful greenhouse gas. The Energy Department gave the researchers $2 million to design devices with the material that can be attached to vents at coal mines and dairy barns, which are big methane emitters. Basically, the idea is to alter the chemistry of emissions before they hit the open air, like a catalytic converter on a car. In the end, the work has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere and slow warming temperatures on the planet. It could also create another possible application for zeolite, a clay used to clean up some of humankind’s nastiest messes.
Desiree's collaboration work published on Current Environmental Health Reports, titled "Assessing Exposure to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: Strengths, Challenges, and Implications for Epidemiologic Research". Epidemiologic studies have observed elevated health risks in populations living near unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD). This work discusses strengths and limitations of UOG exposure assessment approaches used in or available for epidemiologic studies, emphasizing studies of children’s health outcomes.
Congratulations, Dr. Nina Janković!
The Frank E. Perkins Award for Excellence in Graduate Advising is given each year to a professor from each school at MIT who, as a graduate student advisor, demonstrates unbounded compassion and dedication towards students. The award is named in honor of Frank E. Perkins, Dean of the Graduate School from 1983-95.
MIT student Stacy Godfreey-Igwe (pictured) is working in the Plata Lab at MIT. (Photo: Rebecca Brenneis)
Tackling the climate crisis is central to MIT. Critical to this mission is harnessing the innovation, passion, and expertise of MIT’s talented students, from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. To help raise this student involvement to the next level, the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC) recently launched a program that will engage MIT undergraduates in a unique, year-long, interdisciplinary experience both developing and implementing climate and sustainability research projects.
The MCSC Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program, open to rising juniors and seniors from all majors and departments, is inspired by MIT’s SuperUROP program. Students will enroll in a year-long class while simultaneously engaging in research. Research projects will be climate- and sustainability-focused and can be on or off campus. The course will be initially facilitated by Desiree Plata, the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Elsa Olivetti, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering and MCSC co-director. Check out the full story here .
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt.
Congratulations to Nicolette!! Check out the full story here .
PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
The magazine WIRED reported Plata Lab's recent work on methane removal from the ambient air. By combining zeolite and copper, we are able to trap and destroy methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Check out the story in the article "It Might Be Time to Take Methane Removal Seriously"!
Boya, Nicholas, Glen, Yunpo, Rebecca, Austin, and Andrew's work published on Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, titled "Groundwaters in Northeastern Pennsylvania near intense hydraulic fracturing activities exhibit few organic chemical impacts". This work illustrates that a large sampling of groundwater wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania have not been substantially contaminated with hydrophobic organic contaminants spanning a spectrum of volatilities (volatile organic, gasoline-, or diesel-range organic compounds) even after a decade of intense hydraulic fracturing activity. The reasons for this can include the relatively protective nature of groundwater flow in the area, long transport times of sorption-retarded chemicals, and a lack of systematic chemical releases from oil and gas well operations. Nevertheless, accidental chemical releases are commonly documented, albeit with limited specificity.
Congratulations to Boya, Nicholas, Glen, Yunpo, Rebecca, Austin, Andrew, and Desiree!!
MIT Engineering students are getting onboard with real-world on-board solutions to climate change. They are designing a new reusable recyclable cup for Delta under the guidance of Chemical Engineering Professor Brad Olsen and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Desiree Plata, who joined forces to create this new capstone design class.
Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it has a pronounced effect within first two decades of its presence in the atmosphere. In the recent international climate negotiations in Glasgow, abatement of methane emissions was identified as a major priority in attempts to curb global climate change quickly. Now, the Plata Lab has come up with a promising approach to controlling methane emissions and removing it from the air, using an inexpensive and abundant type of clay called zeolite.
Check out the News here !
Boya, Yunpo, Austin, Nicolette, Lukas, and Rebecca's collaboration work published on Environmental Science and Technology, titled "Assessing Unconventional Oil and Gas Exposure in the Appalachian Basin: Comparison of Exposure Surrogates and Residential Drinking Water Measurements". Health studies report associations between metrics of residential proximity to unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development and adverse health endpoints. We investigated whether exposure through household groundwater is captured by existing metrics and a newly developed metric incorporating groundwater flow paths. The results showed that correlations between inorganic chemicals and metrics were limited (all |ρ| ≤ 0.28). This result may indicate that UOG-related water contamination occurs rarely/episodically, more complex metrics may be needed to capture drinking water exposure, and/or spatial metrics in health studies may better reflect exposure to other stressors.
Congratulations to Boya, Yunpo, Austin, Nicolette, Lukas, Rebecca, and Desiree!!
Rebecca, Eric, and Wenbo's work published on ACS Environmental Au, titled "Atmospheric-and Low-Level Methane Abatement via an Earth-Abundant Catalyst". Climate action scenarios that limit changes in global temperature to less than 1.5 °C require methane controls, yet there are no abatement technologies effective for the treatment of low-level methane. This work describes the use of a biomimetic copper zeolite capable of converting atmospheric- and low-level methane at relatively low temperatures (e.g., 200–300 °C) in simulated air. Depending on the duty cycle, 40%, over 60%, or complete conversion could be achieved. Improved performance at longer activation was attributed to active site evolution, as determined by X-ray diffraction. The conversion rate increased over a range of methane concentrations (0.00019–2%), indicating the potential to abate methane from any sub-flammable stream. Finally, the uncompromised catalyst turnover for 300 h in simulated air illustrates the promise of using low-cost, earth-abundant materials to mitigate methane and slow the pace of climate change.
Congratulations to Rebecca, Eric, Wenbo, and Desiree!!
Yunpo, Nathalie, Rebecca, and Boya's Work was published on Environmental Science and Technology, titled "Groundwater Methane in Northeastern Pennsylvania Attributable to Thermogenic Sources and Hydrogeomorphologic Migration Pathways". The objectives of this study were to understand the sources and migration pathways of groundwater-dissolved methane in NE PA, evaluate the potential impacts of UOG development on the groundwater methane level, and move toward better knowledge of the environmental, safety, and climatic impacts of shale gas extraction. Our analysis suggested that the high-concentration groundwater methane could have originated from shallow thermogenic methane that migrated upward into groundwater aquifers with Appalachian Basin brine. The analysis was also extended to constrain the potential contributions of UOG development to groundwater methane emissions over gas-rich shale formations.
Congratulations to Yunpo, Nathalie, Rebecca, Boya, and Desiree!!
At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, 104 countries have signed a commitment to reduce their methane emissions by 30% between 2020 and 2030, putting oil and gas sector leakage in the spotlight. Check out the news here!
Markus Buehler of the MIT and editor of the Impact section of MRS Bulletin interviews Desirée Plata, the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT about her group’s development of new methods toward functionalization of carbon nanotubes with heteroatoms, which enables covalent attachment, opening up a world of potential materials structures.
The Plata Group's work on methane mitigation is featured by PBS NOVA. Desiree explains how methane is emitted to the atmosphere from natural sources and introduces the catalytic ambient air conversion technology being developed by our group to fight methane's climate impact.
Plata group alumna Nathalie Thelemaque, who participated in the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), is highlighted in the CEE News for her pursuit of academic trajectory beyond MIT. Check out the news here!
These CEE and DUSP faculty members recognized for excellence in leadership, service, and impactful work tackling environmental and social justice issues. Check out the news here!
Congratulations to Desiree!!
Nth Cycle, a start-up company founded by Dr. Megan O’Connor, one of the first grads of the Plata group, is the maker of a recycling technology that extracts critical metals from batteries, e-waste, low-grade ore, and mine tailings so they can be reused to make new clean energy products. The company recently announced that it secured $3.2 million in funding from investors led by climate tech venture capital firm Clean Energy Ventures. Check out the news here!
Congratulations to Megan!!
Eric and Wenbo's work titled "Oxygen-functionalized alkyne precursors in carbon nanotube growth" was published on MRS Bulletin. Their work evaluated an in situ functionalization technique of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) using oxygen-containing alkyne precursors. The results supported the universality of alkyne-promoting chemistries and delineated the limits of stable, oxygen-bearing alkynes to support point-directed functionalization schemes.
Congratulations to Eric, Wenbo and Desiree!!
The MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium is to "vastly accelerate the implementation of large-scale, real-world solutions to meet this challenge, and to inspire transformative climate progress across industries – and across the globe." The Plata lab is now contributing to this exciting process!
Desiree highlighted the urgency and difficulty of transitioning today’s systems that require fossil energy, saying, “There’s a challenge on the table to try and meet those needs while minimizing carbon—in other words, moving to low-carbon fuels." Check out the details here.
Andrew and Brian's collaboration work with Prof. Gomez Group at Yale University was published on Combustion and Flame, titled "Small Aromatic Hydrocarbons Control the Onset of Soot Nucleation". The gas-to-particle transition is a critical and hitherto poorly understood aspect in carbonaceous soot particle formation. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are key precursors of the solid phase, but their role has not been assessed quantitatively probably because, even if analytical techniques to quantify them are well developed, the challenge to adapt them to flame environments are longstanding. This work presents simultaneous measurements of forty-eight gaseous species through gas capillary-sampling followed by chemical analysis and of particle properties by optical techniques. The principal finding is that only one- and two-ring aromatic compounds can account for soot nucleation, and thus provide the rate-limiting step in the reactions leading to soot.
Congratulations to Andrew, Brian, and Desiree!!
Yunpo and Boya's collaboration work with Prof. Saiers Group at Yale University was published on Water Resources Research, titled "Evaluating Domestic Well Vulnerability to Contamination From Unconventional Oil and Gas Development Sites". The rapid expansion of unconventional oil and gas development (UD), made possible by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, has triggered concerns over groundwater contamination and public health risks. To improve our understanding of the risks posed by UD, this work develops a physically based, spatially explicit framework for evaluating groundwater well vulnerability to aqueous phase contaminants released from surface spills and leaks at UD well pad locations.
Congratulations to Yunpo, Boya, and Desiree!!
Do we have the technology to go carbon neutral today?
We still need new breakthroughs to decarbonize many parts of our modern economy, especially if we don’t want to drive up the price of energy and goods. But we can make real progress with today’s technology, and invest in good ideas for the next generation of low-carbon solutions. Check out the full interview article on MIT Climate Portal.
Brian's work on analysis of oil sand (OS) development impacts on secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation was published on Environmental Science and Technology titled "Waste Containment Ponds Are a Major Source of Secondary Organic Aerosol Precursors from Oil Sands Operations". His work simulated OS extraction and used comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography to quantify and characterize direct air emissions, bitumen froth, residual wastewater, and tailings components, ultimately enabling fate modeling of over 1500 chromatographic features simultaneously.
Congratulations to Brian and Desiree!!
Riley's collaboration work with Lawrence Livemore National Laboratory was published on The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, titled "Structural Anomalies and Electronic Properties of an Ionic Liquid under Nanoscale Confinement". Featured on LLNL News: Diving into the structure of molten salts in tight spaces.
Congratulations to Riley and Desiree!!