DSU alumni discover new material, publish findings in peer-reviewed journal

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Due to the dedication of two Dixie State University alumni to their independent research projects, their findings were published in peer-reviewed chemistry journals, and a new material was discovered.

DSU alumni Mattie Jones and Aimee Newsham researched and experimented with ionic liquids — salts that liquify at room temperature — over the span of two to three years. Rico DelSesto, assistant professor of chemistry, said ILs are unique because they don’t dissolve in water, but they can still interact with chemicals. DelSesto said with this research, they’ve found that by mixing ILs in contaminated water, the ILs will pull the contaminants out of the water. 

Another use for ILs, DelSesto said, is to extract precious metals from water. Most electronics use a specific class of metals that are naturally rare but exist in water, so ILs can be used to extract those precious metals. 

Newsham was in charge of extracting the metals from water. DelSesto said once they got the metals into ILs, a new phase of magnetic materials were discovered that they haven’t seen before.

On the other hand, Jones was distracting textile dyes, which are dyes used on fabric items like fibers and yarn, from water.

“(It’s) one of the greatest contaminants in water, especially outside of the U.S. because the U.S. is regulated,” DelSesto said. “There are textile dying factories just out in the middle of nowhere that are dumping all of the waste into the drinkable water system and making it toxic.”

Jones said it took many attempts to find the correct method for their work, but they were successful in the long run.

“By the time I joined this project, the ground work had been laid out and the direction had been chosen; it was just a matter of developing and achieving the end goal,” Jones said.

Even though Jones and Newsham worked on these projects for a few years, DelSesto said the overall project has been going on for 10 years and has involved a number of people: undergraduate students, other faculty in the region, and a partnership with Northern Arizona University. Undergraduate research projects like this one also don’t receive any funding from the university. He said the funding for this project came from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Because the project is on-going, current DSU students have been involved in furthering the research, including Jayson Foster, a junior chemistry major from Duchesne. He’s been studying emergent phenomena that occur in ionic liquids since the beginning of fall semester. 

“In research, there isn’t anyone who can give the answers to your problems until you do the work and come up with a solution yourself,” Foster said. 

DelSesto said the whole project isn’t ready, but said that’s typical with science because scientists tackle pieces of their research project at a time. Because Jones and Newsham worked on those projects for a few years, they were able to get their work published, which DelSesto said isn’t possible for all students because most students don’t get much time to work on projects. 

Jones said she gained valuable knowledge regarding the scientific process and how to structure a science project.

“Seeing firsthand the necessity of inspiration and creativity on top of hard work and understanding provided a well-rounded experience,” Jones said. 

Jones and Newsham’s published work can be found in the academic journal called “Chemical Communications,” or by visiting pubs.acs.org