Students at a Northeast Kansas high school are using snails to investigate the toxicity of “liquid salts” made by CEBC researchers.
When most people think of salt, they think of sprinkling table salt (or sodium chloride) on their French fries. But, did you know that there are also liquid salts? Instead of being solid at room temperature, some combinations of positive and negative ions are liquid. Chemists call them “ionic liquids.” They can be used as solvents to dissolve other chemicals, just like coffee dissolves sugar. They might even be useful for dissolving plant material to make biofuels.
Many solvents in use today, such as paint thinner, evaporate and pollute the air. But ionic liquids do not evaporate. This is good for the air we breathe. But, little is known about how these liquid salts might affect land and water resources.
Researchers at KU are searching for novel uses for ionic liquids -- and, studying their environmental impact. Last summer, Jason Sutton, a science teacher from Gardner-Edgerton High School, worked with Aaron Scurto, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, to evaluate the affect of ionic liquids on snails. Sutton developed a lesson based on his ecotoxicology research to take back to his classroom.
Mr. Sutton’s students are investigating the effects of ionic liquids on pond water snails. These slimy animals are cheap, easy to maintain, reproduce quickly and are simple to monitor for abnormal responses. As little is known about the toxicity of ionic liquids, these high school students are actually producing new findings for the research community.
Claudia Bode, education coordinator at CEBC, and Sylvia Johnson, chemical engineering graduate student, visited Mr. Sutton’s science classes on Monday, Dec. 8. They spoke about how scientists and engineers at CEBC are searching for more efficient ways to make chemicals without polluting the environment. Ionic liquids are one promising example of this research.
To learn more about ionic liquids, watch this video on YouTube.