Nanotechnology to reduce pollution of fresh and marine water

For the team led by Dr. Catalina Ruiz, enhancing the sustainable use of water is possible thank to work done at nanometric scales, and the role of a multidisciplinary group. To do this, she gathered mathematicians, physicists and chemists in the X-ray and Molecular Materials Laboratory of the Faculty of Sciences at University of La Laguna in Spain, and from there she seeks to set trends.
Conference "Application of nanomaterials in the monitoring of water quality was held on March the 22nd in Santiago.
Nadia Politis

Nadia Politis

18, April 2018

The audience silently awaits the arrival of Dr. Catalina Ruiz-Pérez, Bachelor of Physics at Univertitat de València and PhD at the Max-Planck Institut für Biochemie in Munich (Germany). The conference “Application of nanomaterials in the monitoring of water quality” is outlined as a technical presentation, rough and focused only on researchers from the Institute of Applied Chemistry at Universidad Autónoma de Chile. However, for the expert in applied physics and the 017 Canary Islands Research and Innovation Prize awarded, the exhibition becomes a conversation full of metaphors, analogies and incentives to get to know the Nano world: "I research in Molecular Materials, which is like if you use a piece of a lego to build a car or a house. So, what I do is to unite those molecules - which are my pieces - so the final result has different applications fields such as water and health”.


PhD in Physics Dr. Catalina Ruiz.

In their research they work with nanometric scales ... With Nanometers?

"Yes, it's very easy. For example, if I take a meter, I divide it a million times, I take that piece, I divide it a hundred times, and that a bit -which I can not take with my hand- I identify it. THAT is a nanometer".

Why is water considered such a scarce commodity?

"When you look at the earth, you think there is a lot of water, especially when you look at the oceans. The problem is that this water is not potable. So if we make a comparison, if one takes a one-liter bottle, the drinking water we can use would be a single drop of that bottle. That is really the water that is on the planet earth".


The researcher at University of La Laguna, Spain, presented in March in Santiago.

The former Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transference at University of La Laguna (ULL) traveled from the Canary Islands, to talk about her experience in the Laboratory of X-ray and Molecular Materials at University of La Laguna in Spain. Dr. Ruiz has deepened her research into the use of X-rays to design new molecular materials, which in turn have different properties. Thus, materials can be developed to make them behaving like a magnet or serving as a contrast agent for a nuclear magnetic resonance.

But in what way does nanotechnology relate to water? According to her research team, water contamination with dangerous chemical substances such as Mercury, Chloroform or Benzene is a serious problem. At the same time the emergence of so-called "emerging pollutants" such as Diclofenac (present in medicines), Musk ketone (used in the perfumery industry), Sulfophenyl Acids or SPCs (present in detergents) can have effects on human health and animal, resistance to degradation, or transform into more dangerous substances. Until a couple of years ago these chemicals were unknown and there was no regulation about.

"We do not need to use the amount of products we have. That is, we love to use perfume, but we could reduce the amount to a few drops. We like to do the laundry, but the amount of detergent that we use could be lower since we no longer get our clothes that dirty as we used to do in past times since normally we use our clothes for just one day. In Europe the term circular economy is very much occupied. For example, using the water that is left running in the shower or tub before taking a shower to water plants. We have gotten use to recycling products that were previously thrown away or no longer smoking in restaurants. Making habits, says Dr. Ruiz.


Water: The today’s commodity

Due to the risk that emerging contaminants represent for the equipment it is necessary to detect, monitor and eliminate chemicals. This is why molecular materials, technological devices and nanotechnology techniques are important for water consumption. For this reason, the research team is focused on the application of metallic-organic nets at extraction techniques, along with metallic nanoparticles. “Understanding how nanoparticles behave is understanding how materials behave when there is practically no material. If we make an example, one cell would be huge compared to a nanoparticle”.

[SPANISH] “Understanding how nanoparticles behave is understanding how materials behave when there is practically no material”

In a context where its great strategic value is highly important, it is matter of urgency to intervene the hydric resources of drinking water: “Right now water is really a commodity at the stock exchange or finance environments, an interchange coin. Thus, although we do not talk about or we talk about energy vectors or other things, water is really one of the most important commodities or interchange coin. Big corporative companies are not investing in golden or other things; they invest in buying water. It is important that from science we aim to look for solutions for this real lack of drinking water we suffer from”.

[SPANISH] “Water is really at the moment in the Stock Exchange or in financial environments one of the commodities, that is, one of the currencies of exchange”

[SPANISH] “It is very important that from science we try to find solutions to this real shortage of drinking water we suffer from”

Dr. Catalina is a scientist associated to Universidad Autónoma de Chile and Humbolt Foundation (Germany) and passionate about research, this is why she has participated in conferences and talks around the world. “You work in science because you are continuously trying to understand what is around you. Thus, when we go inside this nanoscopic world, we are in a level where we still do not understand what is going on, because we have not been able to reach that stage. We can try to reach it with instruments we have, but we need to understand it because at the end it is related to what we are made of. We are made of atoms”.

 What is a Nanoparticle?


PhD in Physics Catalina Ruiz. Researcher at University of La Laguna, Spain.

In deep...
Radiography of water

Chile is not immune to the role of water in economy, society and global policies. Between March the 27th and 28th, 2018, the Water Week Latin America was held in Santiago and culminated showing the results from the study "Water X-ray: Water Gap and Risk in Chile", the first publication of the Water Scenarios 2030 initiative. This publication aims to find the territories with potential lack of water and the possibility of suffering from social, environmental and/or economic damage due to the quantity and quality of water available. The inputs generated will allow the elaboration of proposals for cost-effective concrete solutions that allow achieving the desired hydric scenarios.

Nadia Politis
Report: Nadia Politis
Pictures: Nadia Politis

18, April 2018