SarahCate Harrison '19

Summer Research Scholar with Margaret Anne Hinkle

This summer I worked under Dr. Margaret Ann Hinkle in the geochemistry lab. My research was concerned with bioremediating coal mine drainage (CMD), acidic runoff from coal mining operations that contains potentially dangerous dissolved metals. Manganese, a particularly difficult metal to precipitate out of coal mine drainage, plagues aquatic ecosystems surrounding the Blue Ridge Mountains. My research utilized a naturally occurring environmental process, manganese-oxidizing fungi, to ‘clean' synthetic CMD by promoting MnII precipitation in the presence of different liner rocks.

Over the course of my research, I studied the effects of two different species of fungi: Stagonospora and Paraconiothyrium, in lab-created synthetic CMD coupled with 5 different types of potential liner rocks: limestone, dolostone, forsterite, zeolite and sandstone. To analyze this relationship, I ran an experiment by inoculating flasks with the alternate species of fungi containing synthetic CMD and the respective rock types. Water samples were taken daily and analyzed in the UV-Vis to determine aqueous manganese levels. After the experiment, fungal samples were removed and analyzed in the SEM and EDS. The imaging process allowed us to view different fungal structures and determine elements oxidized out of the synthetic CMD.

The data revealed some extremely interesting findings. Zeolite mitigated MnII from the very start, however, the process inhibited fungal oxidation. Consequently, while zeolite showed the fastest remediation capacity, it may not be a long-term solution for remediation sites. Dolostone and limestone had comparable MnII remediation effects, making dolostone a possible viable alternative for coal mine remediation sites looking to decrease expenses. That being said, the reactivities of the resulting manganese oxides towards other heavy metals warrants future investigation.

Researching coal mine remediation undoubtedly has real-world significance. Bioremediation is becoming an increasingly utilized technology, one that not only helps clean the ecological systems we depend on but does so in a responsible and sustainable fashion. After visiting a failing remediation site in West Virginia with Dr. Hinkle, I have decided to base my capstone on CMD and continue researching bioremediation. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I've had to work under Dr. Hinkle on such an interesting topic! It has undoubtedly expanded my knowledge and appreciation for the geo-sciences, as well as the wonderful opportunities we have to decrease our ecological footprint.

Summer Research Scholars