Chemistry Professor Wins NSF Grant to Study Bioinspired, Selective Anion Incarceration by Nanojar

Contact: Diana Berkshire Hearit
July 31, 2018 

Kalamazoo, Mich.—A Western Michigan University researcher has been awarded a $376,411 grant from the National Science Foundation to further develop his work with anions, specifically to develop highly efficient and selective anion extracting agents in order to remove anions from contaminated water. 

The grant was awarded to Dr. Gellert Mezei, associate professor of chemistry, who has been studying negatively charged ions, also known as anions, for well over a decade. Expanding on a 2014 National Science Foundation grant, Mezei's team has shown that his novel class of anion extracting agents, also known as nanojars, can reduce levels of arsenic and chromate from water to those acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Anions, ubiquitous in nature, often are found in water, in the human body and the surrounding environment. However, anions in the form of sulfates, nitrates, phosphates and chlorides can be extremely damaging in bodies of water and can contaminate lakes, rivers and streams, leading to excessive growth of algae and lake eutrophication. Mezei hopes, by using the liquid-liquid extraction agents (nanojars), to extract the problematic anions from polluted water.

“This project aims at elucidating the molecular basis of anion binding by nanojars,” says Mezei.  “The detailed knowledge gained about selective anion binding by nanojars will be exploited for designing appropriate organic ligands for increased selectivity.”

“This award will fund both graduate and undergraduate student research,” says Mezei, “and will allow us to synthesize novel organic molecules which will enhance the selectivity of nanojars for particular anions.”

Dr. Mezei has been awarded two U.S. patents for his nanojar technology. The first patent protects the method of making nanojars and extracting anions from liquids. The second patent awarded in July 2018 protects the commercially valuable forms of the nanojars.

Mezei was selected in 2017 for an Emerging Scholar Award, an award that recognizes the accomplishments of WMU faculty members who are among the rising stars in U.S. higher education.

A faculty member since 2007, Mezei has mentored and supervised numerous graduate and undergraduate students and worked with the American Chemical Society's Project SEED for economically disadvantaged high school students. He also has assisted with the Science Olympiad, organized activities for "Chemistry Day at the Museum" in Kalamazoo and participated in WMU student orientation and advising events. He has been an active member of the American Chemical Society since 2000.

His other awards at WMU include the 2012 Arts and Sciences Teaching and Research Award; 2012 and 2016 Discovery and Dissemination Awards; 2008, 2010 and 2017 Faculty Research and Creative Activities Awards; and a 2010 Impacting Communities by Advancing Chemistry Award.