by George Zamora
SOCORRO, N.M., June 11, 2007 – New Mexico Tech currently is hosting a Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Poland who chose to come to the state-supported research university in Socorro primarily because one of the school’s hydrology professors is an internationally recognized expert in modified zeolite properties and applications.
Jolanta Warchol, an assistant professor at Rzeszów University of Technology whose doctoral dissertation focused on using zeolites to purify water, has been long familiar with New Mexico Tech hydrology professor Rob Bowman’s research work in using surface-modified zeolites to filter out toxic contaminants in water.
So when the opportunity arose to be able to team up with the zeolite expert in Socorro, Warchol didn’t hesitate to specify New Mexico Tech as her university of choice in her Fulbright proposal.
“My working alongside an interdisciplinary research team at New Mexico Tech, which includes Rob Bowman and Steve Schaffer, a mathematics professor, has allowed me to widen my knowledge in the field of sorption process research, especially with regard to the preparation, characterization and appplication of surface-modified zeolitic materials,” Warchol said.
Zeolites are a class of more than 200 natural and manmade minerals possessing a highly regular structure of pores and chambers that form “molecular sieves” which allow some molecules to pass through, and cause others to be either trapped or broken down on the irregular surfaces.
During her five-month stay at New Mexico Tech, Warchol has studied how modified zeolites can be used in the sorption of inorganic, negatively charged particles.
She also has been focusing this spring on developing mathematical models to further study the mechanisms involved in this high-tech water filtering system.
“There are also a lot of practical applications of this research work beyond providing safe drinking water, which is a worldwide concern,” Warchol said. “I’m hoping I can return to Poland and apply for funding from the Polish government and the European Union to expand my research into these other areas.”
Warchol also hopes her Fulbright-funded stay at New Mexico Tech will also eventually result in setting up a student and faculty exchange program between Tech and her home institution back in Poland.
“The Fulbright program encourages long-term cooperation among host universities and visiting researchers, and I feel that our common research projects can only benefit from this type of international collaboration,” she said.
Natural zeolite minerals typically form where volcanic rocks and layers of ash react with alkaline groundwater, and are often commercially mined to be used in gardening applications and the concrete industry.
In addition, modified zeolites, which at about 25 cents a pound are still relatively inexpensive, are now being widely used in chemical separations, water purification, soil treatment, detergent manufacturing, and oxygen-generation systems.
With several zeolite-mining operation in place throughout the state, such as the St. Cloud Mine near Winston in northwest Sierra County, New Mexico is the major producer of natural zeolite in North America.
The Fulbright Visiting Scholars Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, provides funding for about 800 foreign faculty and professionals to visit the United States each year to teach and do research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
Warchol is one of only 14 scholars from Poland who were chosen to participate in the international educational exchange program this year.