Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Bernhard Hennig

Second Advisor

Dr. Leonidas Bachas


Due to their relative chemical stability and ubiquity in the environment, chlorinated organic contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) pose significant health risks and enduring remediation challenges. Engineered nanoparticles (NPs) provide a novel platform for sensing/remediation of these toxicants, in addition to the growing use of NPs in many industrial and biomedical applications, but there remains concern for their potential long-term health effects. Research highlighted herein also represents a transdisciplinary approach to address human health challenges associated with exposure to PCBs and NPs. The objectives of this dissertation research are two-fold, 1) to develop effective methods for capture/sensing and remediation of environmental toxicants, and 2) to better understand associated risks and to elucidate relevant protective mechanisms, such as lifestyle-related modulators of environmental disease.

Prevalent engineered nanoparticles, including aluminum oxide and titanium dioxide, have been studied to better understand effective nanoparticle dispersion methods for in vitro nanotoxicology studies. This work has served both to effectively stabilize these nanoparticles under physiological conditions and to better understand the associated mechanisms of toxicity, which links these metal nanoparticles to endothelial oxidative stress and inflammation through phosphorylation of key cellular signaling molecules and increased DNA binding of pro-inflammatory NFκB. Surface functionalization, though, is being found to limit potential toxicity and has been utilized in subsequent research.

A novel polyphenol-functionalized, NP-based system has been developed which combines the biomimetic binding capabilities of nutrient polyphenols with the separation and heating capabilities of superparamagnetic iron oxide NPs for the capture/sensing of organic contaminants in polluted water sources. Magnetic nanocomposite microparticles (MNMs) incorporating the fluorescent polyphenols quercetin and curcumin exhibit high affinity for model organic pollutants followed by rapid magnetic separation, addressing the need for sustainable pollutant remediation.

Further work has been performed to both better understand health concerns associated with environmental toxicants such as PCBs and to determine effective methods for modulating their toxicity. This research has shown that PCB remediation through dechlorination is a viable technique for decreasing endothelial inflammation, although complete dechlorination to biphenyl is necessary to effectively eliminate superoxide production, NFκB activation, and induction of inflammatory markers. Additionally, the nutrient polyphenol EGCG, found in green tea, has been shown to serve as a biomedical modulator of in vivo PCB toxicity by up-regulating a battery of antioxidant enzymes transcriptionally controlled by AhR and Nrf2 proteins.