Dr. Neal Blair, Principal Investigator
Research: C-cycling in surficial environments (sediments, soils, rivers, ocean) is the overarching theme of my research. The behavior of organic materials is of special interest with a focus on what processes control the oxidation and /or preservation of organic C. Research projects have included the biogeochemistry of methane production and oxidation, the interaction of benthic macrofauna with sedimentary organic C, the evolution of organic C as it is transported through watersheds and across the seafloor, and the role of soil fungi in the sequestration of organic C.
Research: There is a need for a fast, broad-spectrum organic geochemical tool that only requires small amounts of environmental sample. I have developed a modified online-thermochemolysis method that requires small amounts of sample (~mg), minimal sample preparationand utilizes commercially available tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) to quantitatively characterize the OC content of vascular plant tissues, sedimentary rocks, soils, and marine sediments using biomarkers. The application of TMAH thermochemolysis as a rapid , broad-spectrum derivatization method for trackingthe geochemical evolution of TOC from watershed sources (e.g. sedimentary rocks and soils) through riverine transport to the marine environment (sink) in the well-studied Waipaoa Sedimentary System, New Zealand has been demonstrated.
My research focuses on understanding the origin, properties, and carbon storage capacity of chitin, a biopolymer found in arthropod exoskeletons and fungal cell walls. In particular, I am interested in the fatty acid content of chitin. Using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectroscopy, I have identified a non-extractable fraction of fatty acids left in purified shrimp shell chitin even after extensive organic solvent extraction. Currently I am working to decipher the chitin chromatogram to better understand the structural relationship between the fatty acids and the chitin itself.
The Fatty Acid Content of Shrimp Shell Chitin (2015) Undergraduate Research Exposition, Northwestern University — Oral Presentation
I am a junior pursuing major in Integrated Science Program and Materials Science. I am investigating the potential of chitin-degrading fungi to utilize chitin (shell waste from food industry) as a food source. I plan on further studying extraction from strains with the highest lipid content to produce biodiesel.
My research focuses on bio-methane production from man-made reservoirs, specifically understanding how age and depth of the sediment affects bio-methane production. Energy from hydroelectric power sources is often considered to produce zero emissions – yet this is not the case. As land is flooded, the submerged sediment becomes an anoxic environment, where organic carbon is biodegraded into methane. Understanding bio-methane production from man-made reservoirs will be crucial to determining the correct energy future for our country. My research will work to expand this knowledge by understanding how methane production changes as the submerged sediment ages.
Yue (Major) Zeng
I am a junior majoring in Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and a research assistant on the IML-CZO project. My research project currently involves developing a FTIR method to quantify the particulate carbonate concentrations in suspended stream sediments.