Mason lands $240,000 NSF grant

Mason lands $240,000 NSF grant

Sara Mason portrait

Sara Mason

Sara Mason wants to go play in the dirt.

The University of Iowa physical chemist landed a $240,000 grant to study dirt—specifically, the interplay between water and minerals in dirt—all in an effort to figure out how to get rid of contaminants in the ground.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will fund researchers’ attempts to characterize how water interacts with chemical constituents in the soil and how that affects the ground’s absorption of contaminants.

The research will take place at the molecular level. There, Mason, partnering with geoscientist Jeffrey Catalano at Washington University in St. Louis, will look at how various arrangements of water molecules at the soil’s surface dictates how contaminants are absorbed.

“Water’s a big part of the picture,” says Mason, an assistant professor, “and it’s not going to behave the same with each mineral.”

As part of the grant, Mason plans to create an annual museum exhibit about her research.

“The idea that dirt can be used to clean drinking water can get kids interested in soil science,” she said.

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