Introducing the third and final fellow from the first cohort of our 3M BIC Fellowship, Jeremy Hopwood, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Applied Science, University of Huddersfield.
Jeremy’s 3M BIC Fellowship project looks at the growth of unusual crystals of lead phosphate that were discovered whilst he was running a project with a major water utility to determine which of their tap waters release the most lead from lead water pipes. The crystals are called spherulites on account of them being spherical in shape and have a central core from which very fine needles grow. They can be transparent and are like mini crystal balls.
Lead water pipes are present in a third of all UK properties, where they typically run under the front garden or path and connect the house to the mains pipe in the street. The legal limit is currently 10ppb.
Water utilities have found that small amounts of phosphate added to the tap water prevent lead from coming off lead pipes. This has been very successful; however, it is unclear how the crystals work. One explanation is that lead phosphate minerals form on the surface of the pipe.
Usually, the crystals grow with flat faces like those seen in a crystal shop, so the spheres suggest that something else is occurring. The 3M BIC Fellowship will allow Jeremy to learn more about these crystals to determine how they control the level of lead that enters tap water.
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and elemental analysis are central to the project and through the Fellowship Jeremy will benefit from access to the technology available at the 3M BIC.
Commenting on his Fellowship project, Jeremy said: “I have been running a project for a major water utility and have already been using a laboratory at the 3M BIC, so I know the centre very well. They have a Zeiss SEM equipped with elemental analysis, which will enable me to carry out my project.
“Through the 3M BIC Fellowship, I hope to understand about the spherulitic lead phosphate crystals and publish the work in a key journal. I also want to tap into the expertise of the team at the 3M BIC and look to make further external partnerships as the centre is a good interface between the University of Huddersfield and industry.”
Jeremy is hoping to use both his other project and the 3M BIC Fellowship project as a springboard to secure new work and funding to progress his research.