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A less toxic, more efficient dispersant is scientist's goal

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After the failure of the Deepwater Horizon oil well last spring, nearly 2 million gallons of dispersant were released into the Gulf of Mexico to contain the spill. While preliminary reports suggest that it successfully dispersed much of the oil, the long-term effect of such a massive volume of dispersant on ecosystems, wildlife and humans remains to be seen.

That's why a University at Buffalo researcher with expertise in how the main ingredients of dispersants -- polymers and surfactants -- interact in solutions and at surfaces is working toward designing more environmentally friendly oil dispersants, including those based on natural, mineral-based ingredients.

Marina Tsianou, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is conducting the research under a recently awarded RAPID Response Research Grant from the National Science Foundation.

On Sept. 22, she will meet with scientists doing similar work at an NSF-sponsored "Workshop on the Science and Technology of Dispersants Relevant to Deep Sea Floor Oil Releases" in Arlington, Va.

"The purpose of our grant is to create novel dispersants through the utilization of polymers, surfactants and solvents that would be less harsh to the environment," says Tsianou.

Her goal is to develop new dispersants through a better understanding of how they interact with crude oil and naturally occurring particles at the nanoscale level.

"There is very little published research on the fundamental interactions between crude oil and dispersant," says Tsianou.

Tsianou notes that the scientific community was aware of the need for additional research on dispersants as far back as 2005 when the National Academy of Sciences reported that research on dispersants, especially on the molecular level, was very limited and on the decline.

"That is where our research fits in," she says.

Tsianou and her colle

Contact: Ellen Goldbaum
University at Buffalo

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