Former Trainee Works to Develop Improved Remediation Technologies


 

By Bryan Luukinen, Senior Program Coordinator, Research Translation and Community Engagement

 

Alexis Wells Carpenter and her team at AxNano are looking for the Holy Grail of environmental remediation: a way to trap persistent environmental contaminants where they sit and rapidly break them down.

 

Dr. Carpenter is Chief Scientist at Triad Growth Partners, where she leads research and development efforts for controlled-release polymer and zero valent iron-based composites for treating contaminated water.  Zero valent iron is a promising substance to use for rapid remediation because of its unique ability to absorb or immobilize certain contaminants, or break them down to a less toxic or less mobile form. In her role, she aims to take great technologies developed at universities and accelerate their application in society.

 
Dr. Carpenter’s current work was strongly influenced by her time as a post-doctoral trainee at the Duke University Superfund Research Center, where she led the engineering aspects of Project 4: Metal-based Nanoparticles for Groundwater and Surface Water Remediation from 2012-2014. She worked with Dr. Mark Wiesner, Dr. Helen Hsu-Kim, and Dr. Claudia Gunsch to evaluate the impact of two remediation methods that use nanomaterials and their interactions with bacteria. The goal of this work was to discover remediation materials that are biologically benign, yet effective at remediation.

 

She credits her time and mentors in the Superfund Research Center at Duke with exposing her to the idea of remediation as a holistic approach that integrates health science, toxicology, and engineering. She also noted that her Superfund research gave her a good perspective on developing new technologies — she is currently working on two at AxNano. One of them is controlled-release of chemical oxidants, which act similarly to controlled-release drugs that “treat” contaminants. The other technology uses zero valent iron-based materials to trap and break down contaminants in the water.

Dr. Carpenter and Duke grad Colm Humphreys (BS, Environmental Science, Di Giulio Lab) present at NIEHS’ EHS FEST in December 2016.

 

Both technologies are steps toward finding that elusive perfect remediation tool. The ultimate technology would target the pollutants without compromising beneficial organisms, much like an appropriate cancer treatment destroys cancer cells without harming non-cancerous ones. In fact, advanced remediation technologies like those Dr. Carpenter are researching can be looked at as an “upstream” form of cancer prevention: If we can remove cancer-causing contaminants from the environment, then we also remove their negative impact on human health and the health of our ecosystems.

 

AxNano is a wholly owned subsidiary of Triad Growth Partners. Find out more about AxNano’s technology development work on their website www.triadgrowthpartners.com.