Former THS valedictorian seeks better drinking water for astronauts


Research done by a former Tiverton High School valedictorian may someday help provide a more reliable flow of clean water to space explorers.

Heather Jamieson, a 2008 Tiverton High School graduate, has been selected as one of 65 graduate students to the 2013 class of Space Technology Research Fellows.

She's now a graduate student (PhD fellow) in chemical engineering at Arizona State University in Tempe, Az., and her project carries a long name: Nanosized Linde Type A Zeolites Providing Water-Selective Transport Pathways Through Chlorine Tolerant Polymers in Molecular Sieve Nanocomposite (MoSIN) Membranes for Reclamation of Impaired Waters.

It's all about finding better ways to filter waste water into drinking water for astronauts.

"One of the challenges faced by NASA is providing clean water from the limited supplies available in the isolated environment of a space shuttle or station," Ms. Jamieson said. "A viable option is recycling water from all available sources, namely urine and urine brine, through the use of membrane processes such as reverse osmosis."

The challenge, her proposal states, is developing materials that allow water through while separating out contaminants

"We propose a membrane that consists of a thin polymer top layer containing molecular sieve nanoparticles that are highly selective for water," she writes. This will be applied to a "porous support layer that will allow for high water flux."

Present commercial reverse osmosis membranes do a poor job of rejecting some substances found in urine. Ultrafine nanoparticle sieves hold great promise, she wrote, but "such membranes are brittle, and require high temperatures to produce. Our membrane design will likely provide excellent separation, decreased cost of production ... flexibility and long-term durability."

Ms. Jamieson credits a Tiverton High School teacher with stirring her interest in chemical engineering at a young age.

"My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Busse, definitely had a big influence on my interest in chemistry. She was an excellent teacher and always let us learn chemistry the fun way. I also have a great love of math, which seems to be genetic, so I decided to put them together and study chemical engineering."

After leaving Tiverton High School, Ms. Jamieson went on to graduate summa cum laude from the University of Rhode Island in 2012 with a BS degree in chemical engineering. She is a member of Tau Beta Pi, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

At Arizona State, Ms. Jamieson said she explored several areas of chemical engineering before focusing on membrane technologies.

"The separation aspect appeals to my lifelong need for organization. Now I get to figure out how to organize molecules! My adviser, Dr. Mary Laura Lind, encouraged me to apply for this fellowship, as it seemed to be a perfect fit for our research. Plus, I have always thought it would be really cool to work for NASA, so I feel very lucky to have this opportunity."

"By partnering with and investing in America's brightest minds, we are guaranteeing a great future for NASA and the nation," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology. "These technology research efforts will bolster America's competitiveness in a knowledge-based, global technology economy while enabling our space exploration goals."

Heather is the daughter of Eric and Lynn Jamieson.


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