NSF, EPA Establish Environmental Nanoscience Centers at Duke, UCLA

The National Science Foundation and 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 NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr. "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 Nanotechnology 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—one of which will be housed at the California NanoSystems Institute on the UCLA campus, the other across the country at Duke University and in the Duke Forest in Durham, N.C.-- will work as a network, connected to other research organizations, industry and government agencies, emphasizing 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 collaborative approach that these centers will use is key to quickly building the scientific foundation for understanding the health and environmental implications of nanomaterials," said George Gray, EPA assistant administrator for research and development. "This comprehensive research model promises to augment the knowledge we need to be good stewards of the environment."

With the rapid development of nanotechnology and its applications, a wide variety of nanomaterials are now used in clothing, electronic devices, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other biomedical products. NSF notes that the potential interactions of nanomaterials with living systems and the environment have attracted increasing attention from the public as well as manufacturers of nanomaterial based products, academic researchers, and policy makers. Nanotechnology is expected to become a $1 trillion industry within the next decade, yet the environmental implications of these materials are only beginning to be understood.

The UCLA CEIN 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. In addition, a major effort for Duke's research team over the coming year is to develop 32 tightly instrumented ecosystems in the Duke Forest. Known as mesocosms, these living laboratories provide areas where researchers can add nanoparticles and study the resulting interactions and effects on plants, fish, bacteria, and other elements.

"This mesocosm facility will be the nano-environment equivalent of the space station--a unique resource with tremendous potential that will be tapped by researchers throughout the center and beyond," said Duke CEIN Director Mark Wiesner, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, where he specializes in nanoparticle movement and transformation in the environment. "This research will address the influence of nanomaterials on processes ranging from the subcellular to whole ecosystems."

With an annual budget of $6.06 billion, NSF supports research and education across all fields of science and engineering; its funds reach all 50 states through grants to more than 1,900 universities and institutions.

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