Two Valparaiso University faculty members, Julie Peller, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, and Michael Watters, Ph.D., professor of biology, have been awarded a contract with the Idaho National Laboratory. Their contract includes a $29,000 grant funded by the United States Department of Energy.
Peller and Watters will seek to accelerate the degradation process of plastics to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste. They will utilize a gamma irradiator at the Idaho National Laboratory to expedite decomposition processes that occur naturally in the environment. They also will attempt to identify organisms that can break down treated plastics naturally to further eliminate waste in the environment.
“This exciting partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory upholds Valparaiso University’s commitment to interdisciplinary research endeavors,” said Eric W. Johnson ’87, Ph.D., interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “The research of our faculty scholars continues to provide innovations that will have lasting impacts for our environment and our world.”
Peller previously worked with scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory through her visiting professorship at the University of Notre Dame’s Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Lab. She partnered with Watters to examine the environmental and biological responses to her ongoing microplastics research.
Peller and Watters’ collaboration is a result of Valparaiso University’s push to increase interdisciplinary learning and research. The recently established Center for the Sciences: Chemistry and Biochemistry was designed to encourage collaboration between faculty members across disciplines, and the pair believe this is a direct outcome of that initiative.
Peller and Watters will hire four undergraduate research assistants to aid in the project.
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed about research at Valpo is focusing on the advancement of students,” Watters said. “Watching the students realize what they’re capable of is the most rewarding part.”