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Laurier chemistry professor wins Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award
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Laurier chemistry professor Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh has won a 2008 Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award for her research on arsenic and its compounds. The award, valued at $7,500, permits Al-Abadleh to buy a course remission so she can devote more time to her research, and also to hire a student.
“I am thrilled to have received the 2008 Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award at Laurier,” says Al Abadleh. “I would like to share this prestigious recognition of my research activity in the field of geochemistry with my students, who have been instrumental in moving experiments forward.”
The Petro-Canada award, which is offered at about 20 institutions across Canada, supports outstanding young faculty whose academic work is particularly innovative with the potential to be significant for society at large. Al-Abadleh’s ongoing research is in the fields of atmospheric chemistry and geochemistry. Her geochemistry project on arsenic and its compounds was of particular interest to Petro-Canada because “In general, all refineries produce contaminated water.”
Inorganic arsenic occurs naturally in crude oil and the weathering of arsenic-containing ores and minerals. It can also be introduced through pesticides and processes such as smelting. Inorganic arsenic compounds are highly toxic and water contamination with this form of arsenic is widespread in different areas of the world.
Organic arsenic is the result of microbial activity and is also introduced into the environment through herbicides and contaminated poultry litter. Al-Abadleh’s research studies what happens to organic arsenic in soil and water.
“We are looking at determining its fate,” she says, and the first step towards remediation is to “look at the changes (to arsenic) that take place naturally through natural cycles and processes.”
The potential exists for organic arsenic to transform into inorganic arsenic in water and soil, which poses an environmental risk. To assess that risk, the fate of organic arsenic in soils and natural waters depends to a large extent on how these compounds interact with soil particles and organic matter derived from the decomposition of plants.
Microbes and bacteria in the water can change the form of arsenic, making it either less or more harmful.
Iron oxides and hydroxides, on the other hand, have an affinity for arsenic and bind with it, moving it into lake sediments. “But if a molecule of, say, phosphate comes in, it can displace arsenic from the iron,” says Al-Abadleh.
“What happens then? The arsenic becomes part of the liquid (the lake or river) again and available to bacteria.”
Al-Abadleh’s research, which regularly involves contributions from undergraduate students, has received funding from NSERC, Laurier, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and the (U.S.) Research Corporation through its Cottrell College Science Award.