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Externship Report: Taoguang Qu

Natalie Rogers September 30, 2016

The Externship Program is a research exchange program that allows New Mexico graduate students (with an existing assistantship) to spend a semester or summer doing research at a partnering New Mexico university or research facility. This report is from New Mexico Highlands University student Taoguang Qu about his two months at New Mexico Tech.

This summer, I participated in the two month externship program supported by the EPSCoR foundation. I had an unforgettable experience working in the Osmotic Power Development at New Mexico Tech.

Professor Huang from the department of civil and environmental engineering is a very diligent and rigorous teacher. His attitude to scientific research inspired everyone in the lab. There are two main areas of the Osmotic Power research. The first is membrane distillation (MD) in which PVDF hollow fiber membranes are used to realize the separation of salt and water using temperature as the driving force. The second is known as pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) in which the osmotic pressure difference is the driving force to generate electricity.

On the first day of my externship, the other students first showed me the laboratory environment and their own research topics which include the preparation of the plane film membranes, the hollow fiber spinning process, the design and development of the membrane module, and the test of the performance of the membrane module. The combined effort of the research group will form a complete chain from production to testing.

The goal of my research is to use cellulose acetate as raw material to synthesize an asymmetric membrane which consisted of a dense layer and a porous core layer. These kinds of membranes can be used in PRO process. The role of the dense layer is to filter out salt and harmful substances; the core layer provides structural stability and increases the water flux. After consulting a large amount of literature, I started the experiment. By optimizing the proportion of raw materials, heating time, film thickness, and the annealing process, I got a large number of films with different morphological characteristics. Through viscosity measurement, SEM imaging, salt rejection test, and water flux test, I accumulated a lot of experimental data and successfully developed an asymmetric membrane with reliable performance.

My major is chemistry, in particular, the synthesis of small molecules and polymers. These two months I learned a lot about the engineering aspects of production, such as the connection of different pipes, the design and construction of testing components, and simple programming knowledge. This knowledge is very important for developing a new chemical product used in daily life which needs similar knowledge to direct industrialized production.

New Mexico Tech has beautiful scenery and is a very suitable location for students to learn and live. Thank you very much for this externship opportunity offered by the EPSCoR foundation.