Environmental stewardship: UWM engineering undergraduate receives national award for research on new material to reduce textile mill pollution

An undergraduate researcher has received an award that brings national recognition to the membrane research at UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science.

Senior Miguel Jaimes received the Undergraduate Conference Award in April from the North American Membrane Society (NAMS) and presented his research—an evaluation of a new material to clean wastewater from the textile industry—at the society’s annual conference in May. NAMS is the only professional society in North America that promotes all aspects of membrane science and technology.

The same research won him first place, undergraduate division, at the college’s annual Student Research Poster Competition, also held in May.

UWM researchers developing materials to remove specific contaminants from water

Jaimes has worked this academic year in the research lab of Xiaoli Ma, assistant professor, materials science and engineering, who himself received the Young Membrane Scientist Award from NAMS in January. Ma is developing adsorbents and membranes, from advanced materials, that remove drinking water contaminants and wastewater contaminants including heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, organics and emerging contaminants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as well as membranes for energy-efficient chemical separations.

For this project, Jaimes assisted Ma in developing a membrane material specific to lessening waste from the textile industry. The World Bank estimates that about 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from the textile industry. Worldwide, mills produce the fibers and fabrics that are used for textile-related products including apparel and household products such as sheets and towels.

Some textile mills already use membranes to eliminate waste and recover valuable dyes and salts, Ma says. This research project—”Continuous Covalent Organic Framework Membranes for Dye/Salt Separation”—evaluated the ability of a new class of porous materials, called COF, to improve the separation and recovery of dyes and salts.

“We found that these COF materials have exceptional potential for cleaning up wastewater from the textile industry,” Jaimes said. “It’s a win-win situation for textile mills to use separation technologies like membranes to recover and reuse more dyes and salts.”

UWM supports its undergraduate researchers

Jaimes’ research position was funded by UWM’s SURF (Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows) Program, which fosters faculty-student research. The program funded research positions for 56 engineering and computer science undergraduates in the 2019-2020 academic year.

“I did the research because I think it’s a great way for me to follow the principles and values of environmental stewardship,” Jaimes says. “It’s important for us to take care of and make full use of the resources of the world for the people of the future.”

Through SURF, Jaimes previously worked with Benjamin Church, associate professor, materials science & engineering, on his study—”Electrochemical Characterization of an Alumina-Forming Stainless Steel.” That research led to Jaimes receiving the 2019 Students’ Choice award at the college’s Student Research Poster Competition.

Click here to watch a short video in which Jaimes explains the basics of his research.

Click here to see Jaimes’s winning Student Research Poster Competition entry from 2020.