Alyona Nikifororva, Moscow School Student, to Present Russia at Intel ISEF in Pittsburgh

Alyona Nikiforova, a high school student from the NUST MISIS engineering class project from Moscow school № 1080, has won the Russian stage of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She will present her scientific and practical development in Pittsburgh (the U.S.) in May 2018. Professor Mikhail Astakhov, head of NUST MISIS Department of Physical Chemistry, is her research adviser.

Alyona Nikiforova has developed an innovative method of obtaining hydrophobic coating to separate a water surface from oils, emulsions, and petroleum products. In fact, she’s developed a filter for a unique oil “vacuum cleaner”, which can effectively collect oil film from sea and ocean surfaces after accidents and emergency situations in the oil industry without disturbing the water balance. Alyona, as part of the research team, has already received a patent for the innovation.

According to the developed hydrophobization method, a sample on the basis of a high-porous coal clay — a fire-brick, a simple and environmentally-friendly material, was developed at the NUST MISIS Department of Physical Chemistry. This material can be used as an industrial basis for the filter device for water purification from oils and petroleum products.

Alyona Nikiforova began to develop her project in the 10th grade under the guidance of material scientists from NUST MISIS. In spring 2017, she successfully presented her work at NUST MISIS Science Days, and then at the All-Russian Educational Center “Sirius”, where she continued to work with professors from NUST MISIS as part of the summer project “Big challenges” in “New materials”.

In October 2017, Alyona Nikiforova presented her project at the Russian qualifying round of the Intel ISEF, a major international pre-university scientific contest, and she is now among the 4 winners who will represent Russia at the contest for young scientists and developers in the U.S. in May 2018. Every year, more than 2,000 participants from high schools from more than 75 countries demonstrate their research and compete for a prize pool of $4,000,000. Four participants will represent Russia in 2018.

About the development

The problem of the world’s ocean pollution is a forefront issue. That is why methods of obtaining cheap and simple hydrophobic coatings, which help to separate petroleum products and water, are in high demand.

Hydrophobic coatings do not repel water molecules, but interact with them very poorly. Hydrophilic coatings, in turn, interact well with water. Alyona Nikiforova chose felt as a base material, as the basic of the filter’s element. The felt was heat-treated for 40 minutes in a stream of propane and water vapor at a temperature of 7000 Celcius, and heating and cooling were carried out in an inert atmosphere using argon gas. As a result, filaments were produced on the material`s surface and confirmed by electron microscopic studies.

The desired hydrophobicity of the obtained samples was determined by the angle of wetting with water drops that were applied to their surface. The water drops remained on the surface after the felt processing, which proves its hydrophobicity. The sample absorbed oil as well. Thus, the obtained material is hydrophobic and at the same time oleophilic—that is—it repels water and simultaneously absorbs oil. That property is required for the device to collect oil from water surfaces.