Discover our research

Applying nanotechnology discoveries to target, remove and destroy pollutants in water.

Thrust 1 seeks to understand and control nanoscale properties that selectively and efficiently remove unwanted components from water. For example, only eliminating toxic nitrate molecules from drinking water or removing and destroying perfluorinated compounds from industrial waste streams.

Thrust 1 uses the latest in nanomaterial design to adjust material size, shape and/or chemical structures. This allows us to control catalytic, adsorptive, optical, and electronic properties unique to these small-scale materials. Our measures of success are selectivity, efficiency, and long-term performance of these materials.

We focus on oxo-anions (e.g., As, NO3-, U, Cr(VI)) and viruses because they pose special challenges for water treatment. Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs) have unique photochemical and photophysical properties to transform sorbed pollutants into innocuous byproducts. For example, ENMs will catalytically reduce adsorbed nitrate to nitrogen and will make viruses harmless.

Current Research Projects 

Oxo-Anion Adsorption of Different Metal Oxide Edge Structures with Density Functional Theory

We are developing a fundamental understanding of how different toxic oxo-anions compete with each other to attach to surfaces. We are studying crystal facets, based upon sorption experiments, synchrotron analysis, and models. Specifically are working with ENMs, Iron (hydrox)oxides, to understand the behavior of Arsenic and Selenium oxo-anions. The result of this project will be a several models that will help us understand how these pollutants can be removed more effectively and efficiently.

Biofilm Eradication and Selective Microbial Control Using Phages Conjugated with Super Paramagnetic Particles 

We are developing ENMs that are magnetic and allow phages (the natural enemies of bacteria) to be carried into bacteria carpets (called biofilms). Biofilms shelter pathogenic or other problematic bacteria in water systems. They are difficult to eradicate due to hindered penetration of disinfectants. Specifically, we are optimizing magnetic nano-phage conjugates for biofilm eradication and selective control of target bacteria in water treatment, distribution and/or storage systems.

Reduction of Oxidized and Halogenated Pollutants in Drinking Water Via a Nanoparticle Catalyst Supported on Hydrogen Permeable Hollow Fiber Membranes


We are developing a reactor to eliminate Nitrate, a growing problem in agricultural communities, from drinking water. This project is creating two lab-scale reactor modules that utilize Indium-Palladium NEWT catalysis technology for nitrate reduction. Specifically we are working to attach catalyst onto hydrogen gas permeable hollow-fiber polymeric membranes and onto activated carbon cloth. We want to know how efficiently we can remove nitrate with hydrogen gas and how the catalyst ages, fouls as well as leaches over time.

Single Atom Catalysts as Metal-lean Nanostructures for Selective Contaminant Removal 


Catalysis can involve materials (think platinum) that are rare or have a high environmental cost to extract (criticality). Our team is working to understand how individual atoms interact with and transform (catalyze) pollutants into more harmless byproducts. By understanding this at the atomic level we hope to both use less materials in treatment processes and determine possibilities for replacing rare materials with more abundant ones. Specifically this project advances water treatment catalysts of pollutants from the nano scale toward the (smaller) single atom scale.



Nitrate and perflourinated compounds (PFAs) are legacy pollutants of human origin that pose historic and emerging regulatory challenges in drinking waters. Electrocatalysis using nanotechnology enables selective transformation to harmless products without addition of chemicals in point-of-use and off-grid technologies. This project team is specifically investigating how to target and transform pollutants rather than interfering molecules. They are also working to reduce electrode cost and increase electrode stability 10 times the current state of the art.

Previous Projects

Molecularly imprinted nanosorbents with high selectivity to priority contaminants

Radio frequency heating with magnetic engineered nanomaterials for bacterial remediation in produced water ponds

Photocatalysis reactor design

Research highlights

Spatially separating redox centers on 2D carbon nitride with cobalt single atom for photocatalytic H2O2 production

Disparities between experimental and environmental conditions: Research steps toward making electrochemical water treatment a reality

Toward Realizing Multifunctionality: Photoactive and Selective Adsorbents for the Removal of Inorganics in Water Treatment

Student Spotlight

Treatment of modern water pollution problems requires specificity. Often times there is on only one type of pollutant you need to target to make water useable or reusable. Thrust 1 engineers, studies and models nanomaterials with surfaces and properties that demonstrate potential for specificity. Thrust 1 helps NEWT move toward its goal of providing modular fit-for-purpose treatment.