Mary R Healy

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Hailing from Manchester UK, Mary joined the Chemical Separations Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 2017 after completing her undergraduate and PhD studies at the University of Edinburgh Scotland working for Professor Peter Tasker.

For her final year master’s degree project, she worked on the solid-state computational code CASTEP assessing the performance of density functional theory in optimizing molecular neutron crystal structures. From here she moved into the use of computation and experimental methods to explore the ability of outer-sphere interactions (hydrogen bonds) to provide additional complex stability in metal solvent extraction systems. Working with Cytec/Solvay Mary used synergistic extraction (extractants working together through hydrogen bonding) to vastly improve nickel extraction and cobalt separation.

Now working in the Chemical Separations Group at ORNL, Mary has deepened her research interests to include the systematic study of ligand structure/stability relationships and the exploration of potential for outer-sphere interactions in complex stability. Within the Critical Materials Institute, she has studied the effects of extractant pre-organization on rare earth separation, revealing both the highest overall separation across the series and the highest Pr/Nd separation reported in the literature. In looking further at rare earth separation, she is currently exploring how to manipulate the structure of diglycolamide extractants to gain desired rare earth complex strength and selectivity. Her newest area of research aims at the development of entirely new extractants for lithium recovery and purification through solvent extraction. As there are currently no low-cost alternatives to lithium recovery from terrestrial brines that do not employ cumbersome and slow solar-evaporation techniques, this work has important implications for diversifying the supply of lithium.