Minneapolis chemist wins national award for unique separations

Edward L. Cussler of Minneapolis will be honored April 9 by the worlds largest scientific society for his remarkable methods and applications of separating molecules — from oxygen to pharmaceuticals — by using membranes. He will receive the 2002 Award in Separations Science and Technology from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Orlando, Fla.

In short, I separate chemical mixtures, said Cussler, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. Sometimes its easy, but sometimes youre looking to pull out something like a drug, which might be only a few parts per billion in your original mixture.

At one point in his 35-year career, however, Cussler decided scientists werent taking enough advantage of membrane technology.

So I built an artificial gill, with the idea of humans being able to swim around like fish, he said. It may have started off as something between an intellectual challenge and a stunt, but it worked, and a certain dog named Muggins can attest to it.

Separation happens when any particular product moves from one side of the membrane to the other. So the more surface area a membrane supplies in any given volume, the faster the separation.

In the case of Muggins, the membrane came as thousands of hollow hairs through which water flowed while oxygen seeped out, was collected and then delivered to a sealed box. Inside the box was Muggins, whose scientific bent was apparently surpassed by the urge to take a nap.

The experiment worked so well that Cussler had to dismantle it. My students kept wanting to try it, but theyre too big, he said. The apparatus can only handle the oxygen demand of something the size of Muggins — who, by the way, is the family dog.

A more real-world application of the technique is in distillation, said Cussler. He estimates about a 20 percent improvement in efficiency is possible in distilling, or purifying, the building bl

Contact: Sharon Worthy
American Chemical Society

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