Faculty receives grant to explore photochemical reactions of mercury

Mercury is among the most notorious pollutants posing serious health risks to millions of people, yet there are gaps of knowledge in the transformation and cycling of different toxic Hg species.

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Drs. Yong Cai, Kevin O’Shea and Guangliang Liu were awarded over $400,000 by the Environmental Chemical Sciences Program of the NSF Division of Chemistry to study the reaction of mercury (Hg) associated with particles in aquatic environments.

These particulate mercury species are very common in natural waters and are often thought of as unreactive and not very mobile. However, they do react under the influence of sunlight and need to be further studied in order for scientists to gain an accurate understanding of Hg cycling.

The project, titled “Photochemical Reactions of Particulate Mercury Species at the Water Particle Interface in Aquatic Environments” aims to provide a basic understanding of photochemical reactions and explore the role of particulate Hg species (pHg) in the air-water-mercury exchange.

The research will create a valuable environment for underrepresented minority students to gain experience under direct mentorship, courses, internships and trainings. The results will be incorporated into the general topic of ecosystem and health risks of Hg to increase public awareness.

Cai, O’Shea and Liu’s research focuses on the removal of harmful contaminants from water, such as mercury, by investigating the ecosystem-scale mercury cycling and focusing on specific transformation and transport processes of mercury. The results from the proposed study can significantly advance their understanding of photochemistry of mercury in aquatic systems and the overall role of pHg in the biogeochemical cycling of Hg.

Learn more about Cai’sO’shea and Liu’s research.

The CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment is an NSF-funded program housed within the FIU Institute of Water and Environment’s Southeast Environmental Research Center.