Conducting Research During COVID-19

"This summer, I had the opportunity to research on campus alongside graduate student mentors and research scientists who guided me in lab research experiments and helped me understand complex scientific concepts. The research of our group focuses on innovative membrane-based technologies for the sustainable production of water and energy. Some of our current research projects are centered on utilizing a temperature swing solvent extraction (TSSE) process to desalinate hypersaline brines that result from water produced during industrial processes. For my research project, I found potential novel solvents for the TSSE process. Additionally, I worked on another project related to understanding the scientific interactions during this process to optimize finding new solvents based on their intrinsic solvent properties and without running lab experiments.

An ideal solvent used in the TSSE process should behave a certain way and be more efficient than previously used solvents. During my remote research investigation during the school year, I produced a list of solvents that matched the criteria of an ideal TSSE solvent. One important solvent property is the ability to reject salt or desalinate a highly concentrated brine solution. This summer, when I tested the solvents from my list in the lab, the initial results were exciting because we could see salt-like precipitates in our solutions. These results indicate that the solvent was working as I had predicted it would.

With new research discoveries, my lab team and I had to find new ways to collect data and analyze our results. There were a few different methods we tried including filtering and air drying our solutions, however, we faced challenges with each one. Additionally, although I made some research discoveries, the results of these experiments were not always ideal. For instance, a solvent could behave ideally but lack a few essential properties.

Through the trial and error of my research, I learned essential critical thinking skills and how to collaborate with lab team members to find solutions to complex research problems. I am very grateful for the opportunity to research this summer on campus, and I am excited to continue my research during the school year."


Charmane Gabriel, SEAS‘22, Earth and Environmental Engineering