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Mudassir Iqbal (promotion date: 18 October 2012)

Synthesis and evaluation of potential ligands for nuclear waste processing

Promotion date: 18. October

Promotor: Prof.dr.ir. Jurriaan Huskens

Assistant promotor: Dr. Willem Verboom

The research deals with the synthesis and evaluation of new potential ligands for the complexation of actinide and lanthanide ions, either for their extraction from bulk radioactive waste or their stripping from an extracted organic phase for final processing of nuclear waste.

New ligands with improved separation and extraction efficiency were developed. Separation of actinides (An) lanthanides (Ln) is a challenging issue in the field of nuclear waste management. The main objective in this work is to achieve separations by rather simple, completely incinerable, and easily accessible ligands, for the developing processes in the nuclear waste industry, and to develop environmentally friendly extraction systems, that might replace the conventional organic solvent system.

Various ligands that were synthesized showed interesting extraction properties. Furthermore, the use of ionic liquids as medium and functionalized ionic liquids, has demonstrated very encouraging results regarding the extraction efficiency as well as green alternatives of the conventional organic solvent systems. This opens up avenues for the development of new, An-selective, N, S donor ligands as functionalized ionic liquids, which may yield optimized selectivities as well as favor the development of green separations in the nuclear fuel cycle.

Was your work application driven?

Yes it was, for almost one hundred percent. We designed our ligands for renewed ways of treating nuclear waste more effectively. The work was part of the European program ACSEPT. A colleague of mine at the Molecular Nano Fabrication Group is working on this program too. There was close collaboration with the group working on nuclear waste in Jülich, Germany.

We worked on designing the ligands in a systematic way, which worked out fine. When possible to separate radioactive metal ions from nuclear waste, it significantly reduces waste amounts and the radioactivity period of this waste. We pre-organized the ligands on several platform which led to highly effective metal ions separations, utilizing very small concentrations of ligands.

Did you develop personally during the thesis project?

Very much so. Performing scientific research demands a stable mindset, as one has to be prepared to carry on no matter what the experimental results are. The passion for the field of research kept me going all the way through.

My practical skills grew tremendously. I feel I can synthesize every molecule now, given the structure and the type of molecule, utilizing various schemes. I am able now to manage the moments when things go wrong. After four years, I can confidently say, I am an independent researcher now. That is the main goal of the thesis period, I believe.

Did you manage to have some nice publications?

Eleven articles were published already, three are submitted now and a few more are in preparation. I published in: Chemical Communication, Supramolecular Chemistry, New Journal of Chemistry, Journal of Membrane Science, and in Dalton Transactions, for example. I also presented my work in several conferences by oral presentations and posters.

What are your future plans?

After the thesis talk I go back to my home country of Pakistan, to become an assistant professor at the University of Sargodha. Here I hope to realize more reach-out research towards society, for example to focus on vaccines development and purification techniques for drinking water.

In this way I hope to contribute to my home country. I can show that the PhD project, which was funded by the Pakistan government, was worthwhile. Also I hope to train researchers to directly perform research that society can benefit from. This is a more long-term goal, so to say.

It is important to look for fruitful cooperation possibilities. I guess Mesa+ can play a future role in this too.

What, in your opinion, is important for Mesa+ to stay successful in future?

The research facilities, technicians and scientific staff are of world class level. Also the colloquia and the Mesa+ Day are fantastic, although there are way too many posters presented here for just one day.

I think researchers and PhD’s should present their work in other research groups more often, in order to share knowledge more efficiently. Why should one struggle for six months on synthesizing some molecules if the expertise is there to come to the same result within two weeks? More collaboration can lead to better results.

The most important thing that any research organization should have is talented manpower. Mesa+ should reach the highly talented professionals worldwide, which can be done by conducting some IQ tests specific for the kind of research performed at Mesa+. In that way Mesa+ can find research talent more easily.