Professor Paul G. Tratnyek is an environmental chemist and a professor of environmental and biomolecular systems at Oregon Health & Science University's OGI School of Science & Engineering, Beaverton, Oregon.
Dr. Tratnyek's research group, along with collaborators at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Minnesota, has discovered that at least one type of nano-sized particles of iron may be helpful in cleaning up carbon tetrachloride contamination in ground-water. Carbon tetrachloride is a chemical that is used in dry-cleaning applications and as a degreasing agent to clean tools. Carbon tetrachloride is a toxic chemical that has shown to cause cancer in animals.
The prospect of using iron nanoparticle technology for environmental cleanup is promising. However, Dr. Tratnyek states that there are a lot of unanswered questions about the appropriate implementation of this technology and even some questions about its safety.
Dr. Tratnyek talked to the author about his career and his environmental work in groundwater contamination.
Where did you grow up and what schools did you attend?
I grew up in Sudbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. I went to the public high school and then to Williams College in Western
Massachusetts where I received my bachelor's degree. After Williams College, I went to the Colorado School of Mines in Colorado and received my Ph.D. degree in applied chemistry. The reason I selected the Colorado School of Mines to study was because I was interested in the link between chemistry and the earth sciences.
What were some of your favorite activities and subjects in school?
As a young person in elementary school I was very interested in the environmental science activities and natural history. Through high school and college I focused mainly on the "basics," i.e., chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Only in graduate school did I come back around to studying environmental science.
Professor Paul G. Tratnyek is an environmental chemist and a professor of environmental and biomolecular systems at Oregon Health & Science University's OGI School of Science & Engineering, Beaverton, Oregon. (Courtesy Anne Rybak Photographic)
How did you get interested in using iron particles in cleaning up contaminants in groundwater?
When I arrived at the Oregon Graduate Institute and became a professor, one of my senior mentors, another professor in the department, knew the group in Canada that had first stumbled onto the possibility of using iron metal to remediate contaminated groundwater. But the group had difficulty addressing the chemical aspect of that technology. I offered to help with that, and they provided a small amount of funding for me to get started. My early results helped explain how the technology worked and this gave people confidence and boosted the commercial viability of the technology.
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