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Week One

Have you ever wondered what laundry detergent does to make your whites whiter and your brights brighter? I spent the past week researching the organic compounds (fluorescent whitening agents or FWAs) that keep our favorite clothing looking good and their fate when they leave the washing machine. Fluorescent whitening agent is a deceptive name; FWAs don't actually make clothing whiter. Instead, by absorbing UV light and emitting blue light, they make fabric look less yellow.

Our clothing doesn't absorb all of the FWAs in detergent some of them pass through our municipal water treatment system and enter the surrounding watershed. FWAs (in their original form) are easily traceable in the environment because they emit blue light. Because their only source is human waste, they will hopefully be good indicators of pollution and poor water treatment. In addition to absorbing UV light and emitting blue light (fluorescing), the light energy they absorb may cause them to change shape or breakdown. I will spend the next nine weeks investigating what affects their fluorescent signal in the water.

At the end of the week I went to Bonneville Dam with Vanessa, Sergei and the other interns. When my internet stops being slow I'll post some photos from our trip.