Dr. Jacqueline Quinn is an environmental engineer with NASA’s Surface Systems Office at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In 2005, a groundwater remediation technology she helped develop, called Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron (EZVI), won NASA’s Government Invention of the Year and Commercial Invention of the Year awards. In April 2007, she was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame for her part in helping to invent EZVI. Dr. Quinn currently heads up the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) project, which is a prospecting instrument designed to gather and analyze regolith for volatiles such as argon, helium, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water, etc.

NASA Tech Briefs: Dr. Quinn, how long have you been with NASA, and what inspired you to pursue a career with them?

Dr. Jacqueline Quinn: I’ve worked for NASA for over 20 years. I graduated from Georgia Tech with my undergraduate degree and I explored NASA’s opportunities for employment and was so intrigued by all the areas of science research that NASA initiates. You can do research in my field and areas where I have interest in the environmental field, and stretch out all the way to exploration in deep space. I don’t know of too many other agencies or companies that afford such a broad spectrum of career interests for newly graduating engineers. That’s one of the reasons I picked NASA as the first place to take my employment.

NTB: In April 2007 you were inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame for your part in helping to invent an interesting substance called Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron, or EZVI for short. What is EZVI, and how does it work?

Dr. Quinn: EZVI is an environmental clean-up technology. It was designed to treat very high concentrations of chlorinated solvent contamination that ended up in the groundwater. As you may or may not know, the EPA wasn’t established until at least 1970, and NASA had already put a man on the moon in 1969, so there was quite a lag in the United States in regulations regarding the disposal of contamination. So NASA has some problems that it’s addressing with regards to contamination, and one of the problem areas is dealing with real high concentrations of chlorinated solvents. We use the chlorinated solvents in the degreasing of rocket engine parts and followed the guidance for disposal that existed at the time, not knowing that it would perhaps leave a legacy of contamination behind.

So, one of the challenges that we have in environmental clean-up of these chlorinated solvents is how to address the really high-concentration stuff, the stuff that exists as a pure product. EZVI addresses that particular problem itself. EZVI is an emulsion system – Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron. It’s a water-in-oil emulsion, and how it works is, it pulls contamination from the ground water and the surrounding soils in the aquafier inside of each emulsion droplet. These droplets are micron size in diameter. Each little bubble is sort of its own little reactor, or degradation bubble. The contamination is drawn inside the emulsion droplet and it is degraded by the presence of the iron and water inside the emulsion droplet. That, in a nutshell, is pretty much how it works.