VIRTUAL MSE Department Seminar with Michael D. Schulz: Developing Chelating Polymers for Rare-Earth Element Extraction and Separation

Date(s) - 25 Oct 2021
3:20 PM - 4:10 PM


Headshot photo of Michael SchulzSpeaker: Michael D. Schulz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Virginia Tech

Title: Developing Chelating Polymers for Rare-Earth Element Extraction and Separation

Abstract: Rare-earth elements (REEs: La–Lu, Y, and Sc) are integral to modern technology. As technological development continues, world demand for these metals will increasingly outpace REE supply. Consequently, new and sustainable sources are needed, as well as more efficient methods of extraction and purification. Many waste streams—mining effluents, desalination brines, e-waste, and wastewater from semiconductor fabrication plants—contain high concentrations of REEs, which could be extracted. Metal-chelating polymers have great potential in REE extraction and separation applications due to their relatively low cost and high affinity for target elements. To investigate the interplay between polymer structure and metal chelation, we used isothermal titration calorimetry to directly measure the binding affinity, enthalpy changes, and stoichiometry of the interactions between a series of REEs in solution and metal-chelating polymers. These measurements enabled us to characterize the thermodynamic profile of these polymer-metal interactions. Further measurements of heat capacity changes, along with computational data, reveal the key role of water during metal binding. These measurements will inform future development of novel REE-chelating materials.

Bio: Michael D. Schulz is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at Virginia Tech, and a member of the Macromolecules Innovation Institute, the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, an Arthropod-borne Pathogens, and the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery. He received his Ph.D. in 2014 in organic and polymer chemistry and an M.S. in Pharmaceutical Science at the University of Florida under the supervision of Prof. Ken Wagener. After conducting research at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research as a Fulbright Scholar in the group of Prof. Klaus Müllen, he was a postdoctoral scholar in the group of Prof. Robert Grubbs at Caltech. He began his independent career at Virginia Tech in 2017. His diverse research interests span both fundamental and applied polymer chemistry including antiviral polymers, metal-chelating materials, and polymer sequestrants.

Seminar Host: Martin Thuo

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