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University of Delaware Environmental Soil Chemistry Members In The News

Cooperative Extension

University of Delaware

College of Agricultural Sciences



October/November 1997

Volume 6 Issue 2

Visiting Scientist Develops Models for UD Soil Studies

katz1Years ago in a 9th-grade science lab in Bethesda, Md., Dr. Lynn E. Katz discovered something very important--she wanted to be a research scientist. Today she is an environmental engineer and chemist, who is committed to improving the water quality of our highly industrialized society.

"I always knew I want to be a scientist. Understanding why something is the way it is helps you predict what will happen--it's the first step in solving any problem," says Katz, a visiting scientist to the UD plant and soil sciences department since June. Her research, which is funded through the National Foundation Career Award and a grant from the Dupont Company, focuses on the fate and transport of soil toxins, with particular emphasis on metals. For this, she must understand the organic chemical interaction with soil and water.

"Soils contaminated by industrial wastes or sludge result in levels of metals, such as iron, uranium and chromium, which could contaminate groundwater," Katz explains. "By understanding how these metals are transported in the groundwater, we can develop applications to predict the process, thereby preventing the metals from migrating."

A sabbatical leave and the opportunity to work with Dr. Donald Sparks, soil chemistry scientist and Distinguished Professor of Soil Science, brought Katz to UD for research on understanding the mechanism(s) by which metal ions are bound to soil materials. Such information is vital in remediating contaminated soils and in enhancing soil and water quality.

Using state-of-the-art molecular level spectroscopic (X-ray absorption fine structure) and microscopic (scanning force microscopy) techniques, Sparks and his team of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have discovered that sorption of metals such as nickel results in the formation of mixed nickel-aluminum complexes. These complexes are three-dimensional (surface precipitates) and in many cases, form on time scales of less than one hour. Researchers at Stanford University have recently observed such complexes with cobalt, which also form with copper.

Research by Spark's group shows that these metal surface precipitates are very stable and could be an important mechanisms by which environmentally important heavy metals are sequested in soils, minimizing their movement into water or uptake by plants. Katz will use this data from these studies to develop metal fate transport models that include both two-dimensional (adsorption) and three-dimensional (surface precipitate) phenomena.

Katz received her bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and her master's degree and doctorate in the same field from the University of Michigan. She also has a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan. For the past six years she has been teaching civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maine. In January 1998, Katz will take up a position as an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Texas in Austin.

Katz is the author or coauthor of a number of publications, including book chapters, articles and refereed papers. She has also presented research findings at professional conferences nationwide. She is a member of the American Society of Engineering Education, American Chemical Society And the Association of Environmental Engineering Professors.

She is the recipient of numerous honors, awards and fellowships, including the Environmental Chemistry Award from the American Chemical Society, a Distinguished Graduate Student Award from the University of Michigan, as well as awards for outstanding accomplishment for both research and teaching at the University of Maine.

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