Nearly 800 million people are without clean drinking water in the world, and for environmental chemist and second-year doctoral candidate Lorianne Shultz this is no small problem. In her area of study, materials chemistry for environmental applications, she looks to improve the methods used to purify water around the globe.

Under the guidance of chemistry Assistant Professor Titel Jurca, she is developing new ways to enhance these processes in sustainable and affordable ways so clean drinking water can be within anyone’s reach.

Her ongoing research has earned her multiple national recognitions including a recent National Water Research Institute’s BioLargo fellowship. She has also published three papers and received the American Chemical Society CIBA Travel award in Green Chemistry.

“I was really excited about these because they help validate how applicable our research is to both the water industry and green chemistry fields,” says Shultz.

Her work

Much of the world’s polluted water can be traced back to pesticides, textile dyes, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), such as perfumes, synthetic hormones and over-the-counter medicines. that accumulate in our waterways. In order to break down these products, water undergoes a process of remediation, or purification, so it can return safely to our waterways. The problem with this process, however, is that many PPCPs are not totally removed through remediation.

Finding solutions to cleaning up waterways will become more important since it is likely pharmaceuticals in our waters will only increase over time and as the population grows, Shultz says. These products affect not only water quality for human consumption, but also directly damage aquatic life.

Several previous studies have found improved reduction of PPCPs by using heterogeneous catalysts containing precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum in the water to successfully break down PPCPs. This is neither sustainable nor affordable when we look at future population increase and projected PPCP production rates. This is where Shultz comes in.

She is developing new heterogeneous catalysts based on abundant transition-metals with the goal of sustainable, broad-scope application.

“Making catalysts and different materials allows me to be creative,” she says, “It’s exciting to think that there are so many possibilities that we haven’t even tried yet,” she says.

To improve the efficiency of the catalysts to degrade water pollutants, Shultz is studying the “how” behind these catalyst’s capabilities and what contributes to the effectiveness of pollutant degradation. With the use of different kinds of probes, Shultz can screen different catalysts for their effectiveness on a broader scale than before and build better catalysts with this information; and this is what sets apart Shultz’s study as she looks for long-term solutions.

A Good Mentor

“I love the challenge of research and I love seeing a challenge before me and not knowing how I’m going to overcome it,” says Shultz, “Beginning research is a process of taking little steps and in every little step I see something new and learn from it and learn from others before me. In the process I’m able to slowly achieve whatever that challenge is with the support of my colleagues and mentor. When I achieve what I set my mind to, it feels pretty amazing.”

Shultz credits Jurca for much of her love for research. It was through her involvement in Jurca’s lab that she became interested in environmental and materials chemistry, and it is what brought her back to UCF to pursue her doctorate

“He taught me what it looks like to be a dedicated and innovative researcher,” she says. “He saw the potential in me and helped me cultivate it.”

Shultz plans to continue conducting research within environmental chemistry and hopes to come up with wastewater remediation technologies to help impoverished communities.

“Eighty percent of diseases are a result of poor drinking water or sanitation,” she says, “As a Christian, I am called to be a good steward of the earth and that’s a huge motivation for me.”