Our Research Microparticle systems for the removal of organic micropollutants

Principal Investigator

Patrick Doyle

  • Robert T. Haslam (1911) Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • Department of Chemical Engineering

Patrick Doyle is the Robert T. Haslam Professor and graduate officer in The Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT. His research focuses on fundamental and applied topics in soft matter with a focus on water purification, microfluidic technologies, DNA biophysics, biosensing, and nanoemulsions. Doyle obtained a BS from the University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD from Stanford. After postdoctoral work at the Institute Curie in Paris, he joined the Chemical Engineering Department at MIT in 2000. 

Among Professor Doyle’s honors are the NSF-Career Award, RSC Pioneers of Miniaturization Prize, John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Royal Society Soft Matter Lectureship. He has co-founded two startup companies – Firefly Bioworks which was acquired by Abcam, and Motif Micro which was acquired by YPB Systems.


Can we remove micropollutants from water using a continuous process with components which are easily regenerated?

Research Strategy

  • Develop a microparticle-based platform to remove a broad class of organic micropollutants from waste water
  • Demonstrate regeneration of the particles at mild conditions
  • Develop a fluidized bed device for water treatment

Project description

Removing organic contaminants from water is a key environmental challenge. Wastewater from industrial and agricultural processes often contains solvents, petrochemicals, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, hormones, and pesticides, which all can enter natural water systems. While these micropollutants may be present at low concentrations, they can still have a significant negative impact on aquatic ecosystems as well as human health. The challenge is in detecting and removing these micropollutants, because of the low concentrations in which they occur.

This seed project is developing a system to remove a variety of micropollutants, at even the smallest concentrations, using a special hydrogel particle that can be “tuned” to remove selective contaminants. In addition to being highly selective, it is also a cleaner and more efficient filtration solution, as these hydrogels do not require the harsh conditions and cleaning chemicals that many existing filtration systems require. Leveraging the flexibility of these particles, this technology can improve the speed, precision, efficiency, and environmental sustainability of industrial water cleaning systems, and improve the health of the natural water systems upon which humans and our surrounding ecosystems rely.


  • Developed affordable, sustainable soap-based systems to eliminate emerging micropollutants in water
  • Engineered microparticles to have a lower carbon footprint than activated carbon and outperform activated carbon for removal of low concentration micropollutants
  • Created methods to regenerate the particles


Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Water

Research Themes

  • Water Purification & Desalination

Year Funded

  • 2019

Grant Type

  • Seed Grant


  • Completed