Chemistry Scholarship Proposal - Example



Methyl tertiary-butyl ether has been used in the refining of motor gasoline as an oxygenate (an octane enhancer to reduce “knocking” in internal combustion engines) in the United States since 1979 as a replacement for lead. While originally added in lower levels, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (or as commonly referred to as MTBE) has been added in increasingly larger quantities in order to fulfill oxygenate requirements as set forth by Congress in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.  MTBE raises the oxygen content in gasoline which in turn aids in cleaner burning and thus lowers environmentally detrimental “tailpipe” emissions. MTBE has been chosen by motor gasoline manufacturers primarily for its blending characteristics and for other economic reasons.


An increasing number of studies from around the country have detected MTBE in groundwater and in many instances these are sources from which public drinking water is drawn. Even at low levels, MTBE can make drinking water unpotable due to its offensive taste and odor. The majority of human health-related research conducted to date on MTBE has been concerning the effects associated with the inhalation of the chemical.  When research animals were exposed to and subsequently inhaled MTBE, some developed cancers or experienced other non-cancer related health problems.  Current research is investigating the effects of human consumption of MTBE contaminated drinking waters to deduce the effects of long-term exposure at low levels of the chemical; since it is known that MTBE is a carcinogen in humans at higher concentrations. 


Since MTBE is highly soluble in water, there is significant likelihood that it will probably be found in countless drinking water supplies across the country. As stated earlier, research has indicated, more often than not, that some residual levels will be found if tested for.  The aim of this proposal is to commence a preliminary monitoring project in the mid-Ohio Valley for MTBE in public drinking water supplies. Initial results have concluded that there are detectable levels of MTBE in raw water samples drawn from the Ohio River at Huntington, West Virginia.  This proposal has the potential for significant longevity and exponential benefits for Marshall University and the public as a whole.  Research on MTBE in various facets is currently attractive to the United States Environmental Protection Agency and would have a significant probability to be further funded by grants that are available for such research. 


The author would institute the study by utilizing available mass spectroscopy instruments at Marshall University and with instruments available courtesy of a research partnership with a water utility quality control laboratory in Huntington, search for and monitor levels of MTBE in public drinking water supplies from various locations throughout the mid-Ohio Valley.  Additional research would include analytical methods for obtaining lowest detectable limits of MTBE and how best the chemical could be removed from drinking water supplies in an economical method by comparing levels filtered through Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) and common (low sulfur content) anthracite.  The study would seek to forma strategic collaboration with the University of California at Davis’ MTBE analysis laboratory. 



Projected Budget


Chemical Supplies (gasses/supplies for Mass Spectroscopy)     $1000.00*

Chemical Supplies (reagents for standards)                                $100.00*

Poster Material                                                                          $100.00*

Sample Containers                                                                    $150.00*

Stipend                                                                                     $1000.00


*Expenses to be covered by the faculty advisor’s Laboratory and department.