Magnetic 'Rusty' Nanoparticles Extract Estrogen from Water



A novel concept of "intelligent rust" holds the potential to contribute to the extraction of pollutants from water bodies, ultimately leaving behind purer water.

Scientists have coated minuscule iron oxide particles, commonly recognized as rust, with adhesive molecules designed to bind with estrogen and analogous hormones present in water samples. Subsequently, through the application of a magnet, both the particles and the entrapped pollutants can be eliminated from the water. Materials scientist Lukas Müller shared these findings on August 16 during a presentation at the American Chemical Society's conference in San Francisco.

The emerging technology holds the potential to mitigate the detrimental impact of excessive estrogen on aquatic creatures, particularly those residing in water bodies.

Through the utilization of these nanoparticles, Müller, who hails from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, asserts that they possess the capability to effectively address a diverse array of environmental pollutants.

Estrogen hormones typically find their way into waterways via human and animal waste. Even at low concentrations, these hormones can exert chronic adverse effects on aquatic organisms, such as an elevated incidence of cancer or reproductive complications. Konrad Wojnarowski, a biologist at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München who was not involved in the study, emphasizes that while wastewater treatment facilities can eliminate certain estrogen hormones, the process remains costly and lacks energy efficiency.

Presently, as Wojnarowski highlights, an optimal solution for combating estrogen pollution in the environment has not been established. However, he asserts that nanoparticles hold promise in this regard.

To create the particles capable of capturing estrogen, Müller and Marcus Halik, a fellow chemist at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, drew upon their previous expertise in designing iron oxide nanoparticles engineered to capture various pollutants such as oil or herbicides. These iron oxide cores, with diameters of approximately 10 nanometers, serve as the foundation. The cores are enveloped with phosphonic acid molecules, akin to adhesive hairs, responsible for ensnaring contaminants.

The novel iteration of nanoparticles is meticulously tailored to target estrogen by incorporating two types of phosphonic acid molecules. One variant possesses a long structure that repels water and adheres to the neutrally charged portion of the estrogen molecule. The second variant carries a positive charge, facilitating the attraction of the segments within estrogen hormones that hold a slight negative charge.

Experiments conducted in the laboratory demonstrated that these intelligent rust particles effectively removed a significant portion of estrogen from small water samples. The researchers' forthcoming endeavor involves testing the nanoparticles on samples collected from actual water bodies.

Furthermore, the team is delving into the precise mechanisms underlying the interaction between the molecules on the nanoparticle surfaces and estrogen at the atomic level. Halik explains that with this knowledge, they can enhance the binding efficiency for estrogen even further.

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