Geoffrey Bowers, assistant professor of chemistry, is continuing a long term collaboration with scientists at Michigan State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The research, for the U.S. Department of Energy, develops general principles for understanding the role natural solid surfaces play in our energy infrastructure.
Bowers recently received funding that will enhance new instrumentation in the SMCM museum studies’ program. He and his undergraduate researchers will use it to study how carbon-based molecules adhere to the surfaces of model and natural geological materials such as shale. They will also be able to examine how such materials decompose when exposed to heat.
“My collaborators at Michigan State and I have been working for the past seven years on understanding behaviors of molecules at places where solid surfaces and fluids (liquid or gas) meet out in the environment,” Bowers said.
Bowers said he and his collaborators are looking to identify the rules nature follows when a surface, like the outer surface of clay, comes in contact with fluid.
The College currently has a thermogravimetric analyzer/differential scanning calorimeter that will allow Bowers and colleagues to take composite materials and track the amount of mass lost at a given temperature and how much energy it took for it to happen.
Bowers said the TGA/DSC is a powerful instrument on its own but by attaching the output to an infrared spectrometer, they will be able to analyze and examine the chemistry of what is leaving the sample, an important component to their research.
Having a TGA/DSC integrated with an infrared spectrometer he said is “a unique feature for St. Mary’s College.” He suspects the number of non-research first institutions that have that kind of instrument and capability is “extraordinarily small.”
Bowers explained that this project is a building block in the creation of a macroscopic understanding of such things as pollutant transport, nutrient cycling, non-conventional gas extraction, and subsurface CO2 sequestration.
“Ultimately, predicting the fate and transport of contaminants in the soil or our watershed or even in the deep subsurface comes down to understanding the ways molecules interact with complex interfaces in complex fluids. We’re privileged to work on basic scientific questions that have practical impacts on society now and in the future. There are lots of great people working on these issues and I am happy that my undergraduate students and I can contribute to making the world a better place now and for generations to come,” he said.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland, designated the Maryland state honors college in 1992, is ranked one of the best public liberal arts schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Approximately 1,700 students attend the college, nestled on the St. Mary’s River in Southern Maryland.
This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Science, Chemical, Geological, and Biological Sciences Program, under Award Number DE-FG02-08ER15929
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