Researchers develop molecule that traps sulfate in water

Feb. 28, 2024
Researchers developed a molecule that can measure and trap sulfate in water with a high degree of selectivity.

Scientists have developed a new method to measure and remove sulfate from water, potentially leading to cleaner waterways and more effective nuclear waste treatments, according to a press release from the University of Queensland.

A collaborative team from The University of Queensland and Xiamen University in China has designed a cage-like molecule to trap sulfate, a naturally occurring ion, in water.

Jack Clegg from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences said controlling the sulfate concentration in water is a significant challenge in health, industry and environmental management.

“Sulfate is a very common and important ion,” Clegg said. “But in the environment, too much sulfate can pollute drinking water and accelerate the corrosion of pipes.”

The researchers developed a molecule that measures and traps sulfate in water with a high degree of selectivity.

This ‘molecular trap’ can be prepared inexpensively from off-the-shelf chemicals.

Xin Wu, a former DECRA fellow at UQ now based at Xiamen University, said while there are enormous benefits from cheaply and easily measuring sulfate levels, the molecular trap’s ability to capture negatively charged chemicals from water is also valuable.

“Being able to stabilize a highly negatively charged chemical such as sulfate inside a charge-neutral cavity is a remarkable feature of our molecule,” Wu said. “This mimics the function of naturally occurring sulfate-binding proteins.”

The research paper is published in Nature Chemistry.

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