by Lanna Monday Lumpkins

After researching new ways to filter heavy metals from water, senior Dalton Robinson of Woodlawn, Virginia is considering working in a lab as a teacher as he pursues a doctorate degree.

“I took an organic lab during the summer and had discussed doing research with my professor, Trevor Makal,” said Robinson. “I was really excited to do research, and we had talked about acid base theory a lot. I got really excited as it has real applications for some of the things that are going on around here.”

In coal mining areas, including Southwest Virginia, heavy metals are released into the water systems from acid runoff. Robinson theorizes that if there was a form of material that could filter out the heavy metals in a solid state, it could be more economical and require fewer steps.

“It is more of a chemical aspect of my chosen field,” said Robinson. “I just wanted to try it because it was relative to this area and it could be easier to work with. “

According to Robinson, the method used to filter out coal mine water runoff now adds a new material that binds to form a solid that is eventually filtered out the water.

Robinson did a lot of background research in the field to find something original. After finding studies on a stable structure called UI066, he believed it might apply itself to water in acidic conditions and so he went to work.

“We had to have a structure to allow a place for the heavy metals to bond,” he said. “We then designed ligands to catch the heavy metals. One came out as we expected and the other was different. The second has been sent for additional testing.”

Applicants for many graduate programs are being encouraged, and more often required, to have undergraduate research experience.

“Before I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or be, but this shined a light on helping me figure out where I wanted to go,” said Robinson. “When we talk about chemistry in class, we all think it is perfect, and when you do research you find out that not everything is going to work out like you think. It is easy to get discouraged, but that is part of it and you have to keep trying different things until you get what you want.”