Prof. Joe Reczek mentors science fair champs
Joe Reczek, associate professor of chemistry, carries his love of chemistry into his everyday life. He volunteers at The Works, a local museum, by leading discussions and teaching about solar power, and he is a mentor to an award-winning science fair team that will head to the national championships with their solution for recycling the billions of pounds of Styrofoam thrown away each year.
A Columbus Dispatch article notes:
“With trial — much trial, they will tell you — and error, the teens came up with a process that breaks down the polystyrene at low heat and, by adding a chemical reagent, turns it into activated carbon with a large surface area. That carbon can in turn be used for purifying drinking water. Experiments have shown that their carbon is just about as effective at stripping chemical contaminants from water as your typical commercial water-filtration system, like a Brita pitcher.
“ ‘So essentially, we’re turning an environmental problem into an environmental solution,’ Luke said. Impure water is the ‘No. 1 problem in Third World countries,’ he said.
“Their mentor on the Styrofoam project, organic chemistry professor Joe Reczek at Denison University, said he is impressed with how they pursued the idea and the questions about their process they came up with to test.
“They came to Reczek’s Denison laboratory several times to see just exactly what their process was doing to the Styrofoam on a molecular level. They also wondered whether they were adding any harmful byproducts to the water with their process. So far, so good, Reczek said. There’s still more to learn about how scalable and practical it is, but the project is still ‘very preliminary,’ he said.