19-Sep-2008 - The National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF and EPA establish 2 centers for environmental implications of nanotechnology

Centers will focus on environmental effects of nanotechnology and its applications

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have made awards to establish two Centers for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN). The centers, led by UCLA and Duke University, will study how nanomaterials interact with the environment and with living systems, and will translate this knowledge into risk assessment and mitigation strategies useful in the development of nanotechnology.

"The new centers will provide national and international leadership in the emerging field of environmental nanoscience," said Arden L. Bement, Jr., NSF director. "This is an important addition to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and builds on earlier discoveries on the environmental implications of nanotechnology made since 2001, when NSF's Center for Biological and Environmental Technologies was established. The new centers are aimed at strengthening our nation's commitment to research on the environmental, health and safety implications of nanomaterials."

The centers will work as a network, connected to other research organizations, industry and government agencies and will emphasize interdisciplinary research and education. Their challenge is to better integrate materials science and engineering with molecular, cellular, organismal and ecological biology and environmental science.

The UCLA CEIN, to be housed at the California NanoSystems Institute on the UCLA campus, will explore the impact of nanomaterials on the environment and on interactions with biological systems at all scales from cellular to ecosystem.

At the Duke University CEIN, researchers plan to define the relationship between a vast array of nanomaterials - from natural to man-made to incidental, byproduct nanoparticles - and their potential environmental exposure, biological effects and ecological consequences. Nanomaterials that are already in commercial use as well as several present in nature will be among the first materials studied.

Traditional toxicity testing relies mainly on a complex set of whole-animal-based toxicity testing strategies. "This approach cannot handle the rapid pace at which nanotechnology-based enterprises are generating new materials and ideas," said Nel, who is also the Director of the UC led-Campus Nanotoxicology Research and Training Program at UCLA. "The CEIN's development of a comprehensive computational risk ranking will allow powerful risk predictions to be made by and for the academic community, industry, the public, and regulating agencies."

At Duke University, "a distinctive element will be the synthesis of information about nanoparticles into a rigorous risk assessment framework, the results of which will be transferred to policy-makers and society at large," said Duke CEIN director Mark Wiesner, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. Wiesner specializes in nanoparticle movement and transformation in the environment.

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  • National Science Foundation
  • nanotoxicology
  • material science
  • California NanoSystems
  • biology
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