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Jeremy Fein

AUTHOR: ND Staff

PUBLISHED: December 19, 2011

Jeremy FeinProfessor
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

As a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences and director of the Center for Environmental Science and Technology, Jeremy Fein has long studied the interactions between bacteria, minerals, and heavy metal and radionuclide contaminants in the environment. He is currently conducting experiments focusing on remediation strategies for uranium-contaminated groundwater.

Jeremy Fein ResearchThis transmission electron microscope image shows the unique biomineralization process that occurs as bacteria template the formation of nanoparticulate uranyl-phosphate precipitates within a bacterial cell wall.
The contamination legacies of nuclear weapons and fuel production represent serious problems at a number of sites across the country and the industrialized world. A possible remediation strategy for these sites involves injection of phosphate into contaminated aquifers, immobilizing the uranium by precipitating it as a uranyl phosphate solid. Fein and his students are investigating the effect that bacteria exert on the extent and nature of uranyl phosphate precipitation, finding that bacteria can have a profound impact on the process.

Specifically, bacteria can cause the uranyl phosphate to precipitate as nanoparticles within the bacterial cell wall, and these nanoparticles can enhance uranium mobility not only because they have a higher solubility than abiotic uranyl phosphate precipitates, but also because these nanoparticles, due to their size, can be just as mobile in the environment as dissolved uranium. The results of Fein’s work suggest that subsurface bacteria and their effects on uranyl phosphate formation must be accounted for in order to accurately model the mobility of uranium in these phosphate-amended contaminated groundwater systems.