High School Student Conducts Research Project in UC Irvine Lab

Kimberly Hong works with Assistant Professor Diego Rosso for water research project

Kimberly Hong, a senior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, did an award-winning research experiment in the lab of Assistant Professor Diego Rosso, Ph.D., titled, "Nanoparticulate Fouling of Polypropylene Microfiltration Membranes by Clarified Secondary Treated Wastewater and River Water."

Hong’s experiment compared the levels of possible nanoparticles by using fluorescent nanobeads in two different types of water, clarified secondary treated wastewater from the Orange County Sanitation District and Santa Ana River water.  A microfiltration test cell was used, mimicking the set-up of Orange County Water District's original microfiltration process.  Deionized water was used for controlled trials.  At the end of each experiment, the fiber from each filter was frozen, cross-sectioned, and photographed.

Hong hypothesized that secondary treated wastewater would show a higher number of nanoparticles (more fluorescent nanobeads within the filter’s fibers) than river water, which was proven correct.  Surprisingly, a photo of the river water filter fiber also showed more nanobeads on the outer layer of the fiber than found on the outer layer of the wastewater fiber. The next step of her research will be to expand the number of water sources tested, and explore the surprising result of the river water filter fiber photos.

Hong initially met Samueli School Professor William Cooper, Ph.D., in her sophomore year as she conducted a water project at UC Irvine with partner Brandea Bunnag. The pair tested different water sources, mainly local swimming pools, for levels of trihalomethanes (THM), a byproduct of chlorine that is very hazardous to one’s health.

At the start of her junior year, Hong was referred to Jana Safarik, a senior scientist at Orange County Water District (OCWD),  after she developed an interest in nanoparticles.  With the assistance of Safarik, Hong developed her project and connected with Rosso, who works with nanoparticles in water. Rosso, his graduate students and Hong spent a Saturday conducting the experiment on the UC Irvine campus.

The project earned third place in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the Chemistry Division, where it was given the Yale Science and Engineering Association Award for the "Best 11th Grade Project.” The awards allowed her to enter the Los Angeles County Fair, where she was awarded third place in the Environmental Management Division.

The 17-year old Hong frequently volunteers outside of school working with children. She enjoys reading mystery novels, playing the oboe and piano, and listening to music. Hong’s career interests include working in medicine, therapy for the disabled and continuing her scientific research of water.