Mercury project shines at the Dome

Flinders PhD candidate Max Worthington will put his world-class environmental research on show at Science at the Shine Dome in Canberra this month.

He has been highly commended in the inaugural Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award to be presented at the National Arboretum in Canberra on 24 May.

Along with the awardees Nicholas Leseberg (University of Queensland), and Marta Yebra (Australian National Uni), Max was highly commended for his work in developing an ecologically sustainable method of solving one of the major causes of pollution in the world – particularly in goldmining and agriculture.

With Flinders University research leader Dr Justin Chalker and other students, Max has been developing a low-cost, biodegradable polymer from waste materials – sulfur (a byproduct of the petroleum industry) and limonene (from the citrus industry) – to reduce the harmful effects of mercury pollution in the environment.

“We have shown that our polysulfides have a high affinity for mercury and can sequester both inorganic and elemental mercury from water, soil and air,” Max says.

“The polymers are derived entirely from renewable materials or waste products.”

“Our research has highlighted the green chemistry potential by creating a new material, entirely from industrial waste, by reacting sulfur with limonene, a by-product of the citrus industry.

“Reducing the availability of mercury in the environment should decrease the toxin’s bioaccumulation up the food chain and lessen the harmful neurological and physiological defects in humans and also wildlife.”

Field tests are planned to show the effects of mercury remediation in both polluted mine sites and for pollution prevention. The polymers will also be used to capture mercury pollution from fungicide used in sugarcane production in Queensland.

The Max Day Environmental award is named in honour of Dr Maxwell Frank Cooper Day AO FAA, the longest serving fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Entries are now open for the 2018 award.

The three High Commendations for the 2017 fellowship were Dr Hugo Harrison (James Cook University), Dr Kerensa McElroy (CSIRO) and Max Worthington (Flinders).

Mr Worthington will attend the three-day “festival of intellect” (23-25 May) at the Academy’s Science in the Shine Dome – the event’s 63rd year which aims to present “new knowledge from across the scientific spectrum”.

The theme of ‘Life on the Loose’ will culminate in a symposium about the fight to understand, eradicate or control invasive species in Australia and “what the world has to learn from the giant ecological experiment taking place on our shores”.

 

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