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CAREER: The role of Nitrogen Photofixation on Agriculture and K12 Science


The goal of this work is to produce fertilizer on farms using only inexpensive and safe minerals. Producing fertilizers at a farm rather than at large central facilities can reduce the carbon and nitrogen emissions released from current fertilizer production practices. The research will develop a highly potentially revolutionary technology that transforms air into fertilizer using only the sun as the source of energy. The investigator will then evaluate the materials and systems needed to increase fertilizer production from this solar-based device. The education plan will develop a teaching component for K-12 science classrooms, which will connect the nitrogen cycle with food production and clean agriculture.<br/><br/>The proposed research will elucidate the impact of nitrogen photofixation using advanced synchrotron-based techniques, photocatalytic testing, and detailed thermodynamic analysis. The PI will identify the active sites and environmental conditions that increase the rate of photocatalytic nitrogen fixation at ambient conditions using titanium dioxide-based minerals. Active site identification will occur using advanced in-situ surface science and spectroscopy conducted at Georgia Tech and in a national laboratory. Acquisition of kinetic data will occur through a series of bench and in-field photocatalytic based experiments. Kinetic data will serve as the foundation for a systems level analyses of energy and exergy focused on discerning the environmental impacts of decentralized solar-driven fertilizer production systems. In addition, the atomic scale insight coupled with field tests will seek to discern the role earth abundant minerals (titanium dioxide) play in the natural abiotic nitrogen cycle. The goal of the education plan is to develop new approaches to communicate the complexity and impacts of the nitrogen cycle at the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels. At the K-12 level, the PI will engage with high school teachers to develop new teaching modules focused on the imbalance in the nitrogen cycle. Teachers will work in the PIs laboratory to understand the research, and then develop a curriculum that actively incorporates novel research findings. In addition, environmental engineering practitioners will engage students in efforts that connect issues related to the nitrogen cycle to actual environmental engineering. Broad dissemination of the teaching modules will occur through an open access forum. This research is transformative, as it will allow for the development of point-of-use nutrient production and remediation based technologies that can aid a growing global population through facilitating greater access to clean air, water, and food.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Marta Hatzell
Georgia Tech Research Corporation
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