I grew up near the Huai river, a major river in China which has unfortunately been seriously polluted since the 1990s. Such environmental problems, especially water pollution, are not simple problems that only China has to deal with, but are complex global challenges. These challenges have inspired my initial passion and interest in water resources and environmental science.
Following this passion, after four years of learning theory and field study as an undergraduate, I joined Prof. Yong Ran’s research group in environmental chemistry. During my first year, I was focused on researching interaction mechanisms of deep-sea sedimentary organic matter and organic contaminants. Through this project, I learned how to manipulate HPLC, surface area and pore size analyzer, elemental analyzer, FTIR and GC-MS to characterize natural organic matter and determine concentrations of organic contaminants. Additionally, I gained a set of solid data and intriguing conclusions, the relevant results of which have been written in a manuscript currently under minor revision.
Furthermore, this meaningful experience evoked my interest in conducting further research in this field. After extensive literature reviews, I noticed that although spores/pollens are abundant and ubiquitous in the environment, their role in the fate and transport of organic pollutants in the environment is highly neglected. Thus, I designed experimental steps and wrote detailed experiment plans which were mostly completed after six months of work. However, the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra showed that the peaks in the aromatic region of the L. japonicum and L. clavatum sporopollenins differed significantly, even though they are both classified as “Fern Allies” in traditional plant taxonomy. Fortunately, after consulting much literature, I found a recently published study suggesting that Lycopodiaceae have been excluded from the fern classification system. As such, the prominent difference observed between L. japonicum and L. clavatum in this study was reasonable; moreover, we found that the maximum sorption capacity of the biopolymers was comparable to that of commercially available sorbents. This means they could potentially be low-cost biopolymeric sorbents for the removal of hydrophobic organic contaminants from aquatic media, which aids environmental remediation. With critical acclaim from reviewers, these novel and tenable results have been published in Environmental Science & Technology as a cover article.
Recently, I have conducted research applying continuous flow centrifuge to collect suspended particulate matter from the Pearl River (as well as precipitation). I’ve completed a batch sorption experiment to explore the interaction between DOM and PAHs and currently I am learning how to characterize DOM, kerogen and black carbon using FT-ICR-MS and advanced solid-state 13C NMR. The aforementioned projects which I participated in and my undergraduate background in Hydrology are both conducive to adapting to the current research of Assistant Prof. Zeng at Syracuse University as soon as possible.
I anticipate the Research Assistantships or University Fellowships will finance my studies if possible. After receiving my PhD, I hope to find a postdoc position to continue my research and employ my specialized knowledge in the remediation of the Huai river of my birthplace.