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UMaine grad student makes chemistry discovery

Duwage Charitha Perera, a chemistry doctoral candidate at the University of Maine, has recently discovered a compound which could be used in coating agents for moisture-wicking fabric. 

Perera is a graduate student at UMaine. She is originally from Sri Lanka, where she attended the University of Ruhuna and researched the catalytic properties of metal clusters using the density functional theory.

I use the theory called density functional theory, which is quite a popular theory among not only theoretical chemists, but also among experimental chemists because our findings can help the experimentalists to compare their results,” Perera explained in an interview with UMaine Research News.

Perera worked closely with a colleague, Jinasena Hewage, at the University of Ruhuna as an undergraduate student. The two researched magnesium oxide reactions using the density functional theory. Eventually they began to research magnesium hydroxide as well, which is a safer compound to research in a laboratory setting.

When Perera came to UMaine as a graduate student she consulted her advisor, professor Jayendran Rasaiah, for advice on how to continue her research.

“The current study is theoretical and the objective is to work out the optimal conditions under which the experiments can be carried out,” Rasaiah explained to UMaine Research. By carrying out the experiments in this way it helps researchers select catalysts from a number of different candidates through computational methods, effectively getting rid of the need for longer experimental trials.

Perera’s work was recently published in the Journal of Materials Science. The work outlines a new process for acetic acid decarboxylation. When the magnesium hydroxide is introduced as a catalyst, the acetic acid decarboxylation occurs in a direct pathway. To break this down in simpler terms, the acetic acid compound has its carbon removed in a way which is more efficient than it would be if a different catalyst was introduced.

This research is useful in many ways.For one, acetic acid decarboxylation is considered an eco-friendly treatment for waste-water and air pollution.

This research is also useful in the realm of the textile and fabric industries. Using the results of this research, and applying it to the propionic acid found in human sweat would suggest that the introduction of the same catalyst would affect the decarboxylation of propionic acid in a similar fashion. If the catalyst, magnesium hydroxide, is coated onto the fabric, then it could potentially decompose sweat.

“If the textile industry were to look for odor-eliminating components they would produce odor-eliminating clothes by coating with some catalyst. So they can use this magnesium hydroxide nanocluster as a coating material to eliminate odor, as a suitable option,” Perera said to UMaine Research News.

Perera’s research could help to revolutionize both the athletic textile industry, as well as the world of waste-water treatment and air pollution. As a graduate researcher she has undertaken other noteworthy research projects as well, such as using catalysts to split water to form hydrogen in presence and absence of light, according to UMaine Research News. The application of these techniques have widespread uses in the field of chemistry, and Perera’s work is leading to exciting discoveries in the realm of acetic acid decomposition. 

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