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Physics Program presents

Collecting Electrons from Bacteria with Microbial Fuel Cells

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

[Collecting Electrons from Bacteria with Microbial Fuel Cells]
A lecture by
Emily Gardel
Candidate for the position in Physics

The energy for all forms of life comes from the flow of electrons in energetically favorable pairings of oxidation and reduction reactions. While humans can only use oxygen as an electron acceptor, bacteria have the ability to use a variety of compounds, including solid materials, such as metal oxides. This metabolic diversity makes these micron-sized organisms dominant members of our biosphere and opens possibilities for biotechnological applications, including electricity production, bioremediation, and wastewater treatment. In my research, I focus on bacteria that are capable of transferring electrons outside the bacterial cell to a solid-phase electron acceptor. I will discuss how this phenomenon can be studied by separating the locations of the oxidation and reduction reactions while providing an electrode as an electron acceptor for the bacteria. These microbial fuel cells (MFCs) produce an electrical current and there is interest in understanding the limiting factors governing overall power performance in these systems. Using an environmental MFC, I have found that current production decreases when the system is mass-transfer limited. By allowing the electrode to rest disconnected from electron flow, any necessary nutrients or electron donors diffuse to the bacteria on the electrode and allow for increased current production upon reconnecting the electrode. These findings demonstrate a method for determining an optimal way for operating MFCs used for electricity generation as well as raise additional questions about bacteria-electrode electron transfer.

For more information, call 845-758-7216, or e-mail deady@bard.edu.

Location: Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium