The Water Science and Engineering Laboratory encompasses research in a number of areas, including Environmental Technology, Trace Metals, and Biogeochemistry.

Environmental Organic Chemistry: Researchers in our program actively study the environmental fate of anthropogenic organic chemicals, including pesticides, pharmaceutical, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). We also study the composition of naturally occurring dissolved organic matter in multiple systems.

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Organic chemical quantification

Our lab is equipped with two Agilent 1260 HPLC’s (one with a diode-array detector and a fluorescence detector, one with a variable wavelength UV detector). These instruments are ideal for quantifying many organic chemicals with known UV or fluorescence spectra. For trace level analysis, we rely on our Agilent 1260 Infinity LC System with 6460 Triple Quadrupole MS (LC-MS/MS). With proper sample preparation, we can quantify chemicals (e.g., PFAS) in the part-per-trillion range by LC-MS/MS. Finally, we routinely use our GE Sievers M5310C Total Organic Carbon Analyzer for quantifying total organic carbon in natural and engineered waters.


Researchers also use a Horiba Aqualog scanning fluorimeter as well as a Shimadzu 2401PC Recording Spectrophotometer for collecting spectra of both target compounds and dissolved organic matter solutions.

Trace Metal and Biogeochemistry: Our group has excellent facilities and equipment for research on trace metals in natural waters and environmental systems. Facilities include several dedicated clean rooms for trace metal and mercury sample processing and analysis, unique equipment for collecting and processing samples in the field under clean conditions, and highly sensitive instrumentation for trace-level analysis of mercury and other metals. Through recent research, our QA/QC procedures have been reviewed and approved by the EPA. Our research technical support staff have many years of experience in all phases of environmental trace analysis. We also have significant collaborative relationships with researchers from the USGS and other universities.

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Mercury Laboratory

The Mercury Laboratory is dedicated to the analysis of low-level Hg in aquatic samples. Incoming air to the room is filtered through an activated carbon filter (to remove organics, CH3Hg, etc.), followed by a large particle filter, a gold-coated cheesecloth (to remove Hg0) and a HEPA filter unit. Additionally, air within the room is filtered through HEPA units on laminar flow hoods and clean benches. The Envirco Model 430 laminar flow hood is used for standard and reagent preparation, assembly and packaging of ultra-clean sampling equipment, drying of miscellaneous clean sampling components and storage of sample bottles immediately before analysis. Sample preparation such as reduction and bubbling is conducted under several large vertical-flow Class-100 clean benches. We have three analytical systems equipped with atomic fluorescence detectors. Two, dedicated to analysis of total Hg, use Brooks Rand Model II detectors; one is equipped with an automated sample injector. A third, dedicated to analysis of methyl mercury, uses a Tekran Model 2500 detector. We employ a small and large volume all-Teflon distillation apparatus for preparation of methyl mercury samples (Horvat, Bloom and Liang, 1993). Two Teflon nitric acid baths (Lufran Inc, Macedonia, OH) are located outside of the mercury room for preparation of Teflon sample bottles for field and laboratory use. Two Teflon stills (Savillex Inc, Minnetonka, MN) are used to purify contaminant-prone reagents such as the BrCl oxidant and HCl sample preservative.

Trace Metal Clean Lab

The Water Chemistry Program maintains a dedicated state-of-the-art trace-metal clean lab in addition to the dedicated Hg clean lab. The 350 sq ft facility was built specifically for trace metal research for non-metallic materials. Particle counts of <10 per cubic foot of air @ 0.3 µm (better than CLASS 10) are maintained with over 160 air exchanges per hour. The lab is equipped with a dedicated high purity water system, two laminar-flow clean benches, and one HEPA filtered, polypropylene, exhausting fume hood.

Field Study Capabilities

We have demonstrated capability to project both large and small scale trace metal related studies anywhere in the United States. Field-based studies have been conducted in the Florida Everglades, Northern Minnesota, Northeastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Lower Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Our facility has specialized equipment and highly qualified personnel dedicated to field geochemical studies. The laboratory and department are staffed by chemists, limnologists, and geochemists with decades of experience in designing field-based studies, and interpreting environmental geochemical data.