Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Joan E. McLean


The goal of this project was to study the behavior of copper oxide nanoparticles in soil environments. Copper oxide nanoparticles have antimicrobial properties and may also be used in agricultural settings to provide a source of copper for plant health, but accidental or misapplication of these nanoparticles to soil may be damaging to the plant and its associated bacteria.

Dissolved soil organic matter that is present in soil pore waters dissolved nanoparticles, but did not dissolve the expected amounts from a geochemical model because the geochemical model did not take into account surface chemistry or coating of the nanoparticles by dissolved organic matter. Wheat grown in soil pore water increased the solubility of the nanoparticles. The nanoparticles and dissolved copper were harmful to wheat, but dissolved soil organic matter remediated a portion of the damage. These studies were conducted with Utah soils and wheat, a highly valuable Utah crop.

These results suggest that contamination of soils by copper oxide nanoparticles will be partially mitigated by the organic matter content of the soil. Producers of fertilizers and fungicides may use various forms of organic matter to deliver products that are targeted to specific plants or pathogens and avoid damage to non-target organisms.