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Systems Biology and Evolution of Biological Extraction and Purification of Rare Earth Metals

Project Advisor
Professor Buz Barstow -

Project Area/Concentration
synthetic biology, energy and high technology with backgrounds in molecular or synthetic biology, microbiology, chemistry, physics or electrical or computer engineering

Project Description
Rare earth elements (REEs) are essential ingredients of modern electronics and sustainable energy technologies like automotive electric motors, wind turbines, and solid-state lighting. However, they are diffuse in the Earth’s crust, requiring extraction from extremely large volumes of ore, while their chemical similarity makes purification extremely challenging. These processes are expensive, difficult, and environmentally challenging, creating geopolitical risk for the supply of these elements.Microbes offer a route to the extraction of REEs from ore and their purification under benign conditions. However, naturally occurring microbes do this with far lower efficiency than thermochemical methods. We will use Knockout Sudoku, a new ultra-low-cost gene discovery tool developed by my lab to discover control points in the genomes of REE solubilizing microbes to enhance REE extraction and purification, with the aim of matching or even exceeding the performance of thermochemical methods.

Possible Courses

Course number Course title
AEP 4210 Mathematical Physics I
AEP 4220 Mathematical Physics II
BEE 3600 Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering
BME 6130 Engineering the Microbiome