Development of a portable membrane introduction mass spectrometry interface for the rapid analysis of volatile chemicals in water

NOTE: Engineering students working on this project can only receive academic credit (39-500) during the school year (fall and spring). No credit is given over the summer.

There has been considerable debate about whether the hydraulic fracturing process of underground shale deposits is contaminating groundwater and waterways with chemicals.  Organic “slick water” chemicals and biocides are used in “fracking” fluid to modify fluid friction and inhibit biological growth that would clog the well, respectively. Some of these chemicals are of particular concern to human health, and they may resist water treatment in systems designed for brine treatment. Due to the increase in the number hydraulic fracturing wells, leading to significant increases in the volume of produced water requiring management, it is important to have analytical information about whether target chemicals are being removed or persisting in treated wastewater.  Jeanne VanBriesen is a leading researcher in regional assessments of produced water impacts on surface waters and Mark Bier is a leading researcher in mass spectrometry instrumentation development.

The objective of this project is to develop an ultra-sensitive, low-cost, rapid membrane introduction mass spectrometry (MIMS) system to detect shale gas chemicals in water. The apparatus will consist of a home-made membrane interface, a novel chemical ionizer and control electronics to couple to portable mass spectrometers. The tool will be used to detect, identify and quantify organic molecules in water from the shale gas hydraulic fracturing process. After six months, the development will shift focus to coupling the device to two different portable mass spectrometers supplied by BaySpec Inc., San Jose, CA and Ardara Technologies LP, Ardara, PA. 

MIMS sampling is advantageous because it can be used to rapidly separate the bulk water and matrix from organic analytes. Once molecules pervaporate, the analytes will be ionized by a chemical ionization device developed by Bier in 2013. A mass spectrometer will generate the data used to identify and quantitate the molecules. The setup will be controlled by a computer installed with I/O control cards and Labview software from National Instruments Corporation.


Summer Research Assistant

We seek a dynamic environmentally aware scientist or engineering student at the undergraduate (rising senior) or master’s level to help build and test a chemical measuring instrument. Specifically, the student will first build a membrane device and couple it to a mass spectrometer. Once operational, the device will be used to conduct water analysis experiments. The end goal of the project is to conduct chemical survey analysis of water as it relates to shale gas production and do so using a portable mass spectrometer. The student will help construct and automate the device to work in concert with a mass spectrometer. Knowledge in computer science, electronics and mechanical design is needed to build and control the apparatus. We will use NI hardware and Labview software to control the system. The student must be able to program using Labview. A basic working knowledge of physics and chemistry and various area of engineering is essential so that the student can serve as a builder of the device, an operator of the system and conduct experiments. The successful researcher will have prior experiences in building and control of mechanical or electronic devices.   Excellent verbal and written communication skills are essential.     

Time period:  10-12 weeks; Summer salary:  $3,500-6,000