Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The population of the world is increasing day by day and is expected to reach 9.8 billion by the year 2050. The ever-increasing demand for agricultural products is putting an unprecedented strain on the world's soils as the human population continues to expand. Soil degradation caused by over-farming and the agrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) used in agriculture is a growing problem, although its causes remain murky. In addition, little is understood about the molecular-level interactions of substances that are subsequently introduced to soils, such as agricultural chemicals (ACs). Therefore, it is expected that these constraints may be circumvented by the synthesis of natural mimics of soil, known as Engineered Soil Surrogates (ESSs), to associate their bulk attributes with structure compositions. A series of polymeric ESSs were synthesized and the sorption behavior of Norflurazon as the ACs was observed and compared to the sorption behavior of a natural soil, Pahokee peat.

On the other hand, the world is currently dealing with the drug overdose epidemic mainly due to the illicit use of synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. More than 70000 people died due to fentanyl overdose in 2021, which is often mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, etc. with or without the knowledge of the end-users. Therefore, the detection of fentanyl by law enforcement agencies and end-users is of utmost importance. Molecularly Imprinted Polymer (MIP) based sensors can be a solution to this problem. A MIP was made by using methacrylic acid (MAA), and ethylene glycol dimethacrylate (EGDMA) as the functional monomer and cross-linking monomer respectively, and benzyl fentanyl as the target template. Binding sites that are complementary to the analyte in size and shape are revealed after the template has been removed. Selectivity studies comprising various drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine showed that the synthesized MIP can selectively detect benzyl fentanyl.

Finally, a molecularly imprinted hydrogel employing diffraction grating techniques was developed to detect microRNA. The hydrogels imprinted with the miR-21 DNA target were sensitive to the target sequence's reintroduction and selective among comparable nucleotide sequences.



Committee Chair

Spivak, David