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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

Chemistry Student Wins Award

Graduating senior Curtis Wilhelmsen recognized by environmental division of the American Chemical Society
Posted May 2017

Each year the Environmental Chemistry division of the American Chemical Society recognizes outstanding undergraduate students in fields related to environmental chemistry. Curtis Wilhelmsen was one of the students honored this year.

Wilhelmsen, a student in the ESF Department of Chemistry, graduates this month from ESF. In addition to taking three graduate-level courses in environmental chemistry this past year, he carried out research focused on the atmospheric chemistry of mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin that bio-accumulates in aquatic ecosystems to levels that are hazardous to wildlife. Fish consumption represents the major route for human exposure to mercury in the United States.

Mercury is emitted to the atmosphere as atoms of mercury but mostly does not enter ecosystems until it reacts with other species to form mercury compounds. Scientists are not sure which reactions transform mercury atoms to mercury compounds. To make matters more difficult, field studies currently provide no information about the identity of these mercury compounds.

Wilhelmsen used computational chemistry to help predict the identity of these compounds. His research suggests the molecule BrHgOH will be one of the most abundant mercury compounds formed. His research will be tested by scientists trying to verify these predictions.

ESF Students Make their Mark