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Engineers Explore Environmental Concerns Of Nanotechnology


3 February, 2010  

Nanotechnology to improve production methods for applications that range from manufacturing materials to creating new pharmaceutical drugs, a separate but equally compelling challenge exists.

History has shown that previous industrial revolutions, such as those involving asbestos and chloroflurocarbons, have had some serious environmental impacts. Might nanotechnology also pose a risk?

Linsey Marr and Peter Vikesland, faculty members in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, are part of the national Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2008. Along with Michael Hochella, University Distinguished Professor of Geosciences, they represent Virginia Tech’s efforts in a nine-member consortium awarded $14 million over five years, starting in 2008. Virginia Tech’s portion is $1.75 million.

CEINT is dedicated to elucidating the relationship between a vast array of nanomaterials – from natural, to manufactured, to those produced incidentally by human activities – and their potential environmental exposure, biological effects, and ecological consequences. It will focus on the fate and transport of natural and manufactured nanomaterials in ecosystems.

Headquartered at Duke University, CEINT is collaboration between Duke, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, and Virginia Tech as the core members, as well as investigators from the University of Kentucky and Stanford University.

CEINT academic collaborations in the U.S. also include on-going activities coordinated with faculty at Clemson, North Carolina State, UCLA, and Purdue universities. At Virginia Tech, CEINT is part of the University’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS).

Scientists and engineers at the center have outlined plans to conduct research on the possible environmental health impacts of nanomaterials. The plans include new approaches, such as creating a predictive toxicology model based on cell assays and building ecosystems to track nanoparticles.