New Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology to study environmental footprint of nanoparticles

Posted: Nov 29th, 2012

(Nanowerk News) Northwestern University has joined  forces with four Midwestern universities and a national laboratory to establish  the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, which this fall received  funding from the National Science Foundation.
Chemists, environmental engineers and freshwater scientists will  work on developing a deeper understanding of nanotechnology’s environmental  footprint and potential toxicity — areas little understood, despite a rapid  increase of nanomaterials used in consumer products, from cellphones and laptops  to sunscreen and beer bottles.
“We need to know how the tiny particles interact with their  environment, and this requires advanced imaging and spectroscopic tools that can  see where no eye has seen before,” said Franz M. Geiger, a professor of chemistry in the Weinberg  College of Arts and Sciences who is leading the Northwestern team.
“And the nanoparticles must be studied without taking them out  of their biogeochemical environment or modifying them for analysis,” he said. “This is an extremely daunting challenge but one we relish.”
Geiger’s team includes Stephanie Walter, Julianne Troiano and  Laura Olenick, all doctoral students in his lab. They will utilize their unique  nonlinear optics laboratory to develop new imaging techniques and provide  testing grounds for nanoparticles created by other center members.
Robert Hamers, a professor of chemistry at the University of  Wisconsin-Madison, is director of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.  Other center members are the University of Minnesota, the University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Illinois and Pacific Northwest National  Laboratory.
“Our center — involving the expertise of researchers at six  different institutions — takes ample advantage of synergy, which, by  definition, produces effects that cannot be produced by summing up the  individual parts,” Geiger said.
Center researchers will focus on understanding how the surfaces of new as well as aged or weathered nanoparticles interact at the molecular level with cell membranes and what kind of biochemical pathways are triggered when these interactions occur. The findings ultimately could help inform the development of federal regulations.
In addition to the molecular studies, the researchers will study  two freshwater organisms, a water flea and a bacterium, feeding them  nanoparticles and tracking the particles using methods to be developed in the  center. The biochemical pathways will be studied to determine if the  nanoparticles have any toxic effects on the organisms.
Some of the nanomaterials produce a signal by lighting up when  light of a certain color is shined on them, allowing the particles to be imaged  inside living organisms. Geiger and his team will apply nonlinear optical  approaches to study a subset of these materials: those that can be accessed  using the suite of ultrafast laser systems available in his laboratory.
The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology received a three-year,  $1.75 million Phase 1 Center for Chemical Innovation grant from the National  Science Foundation (NSF) this fall. Following the initial phase, the researchers  will have the opportunity to apply to the NSF for a much larger grant to  continue their work.
Geiger’s research with the new center connects to Northwestern’s  strategic plan goals of discovering creative solutions to problems that will  improve lives, communities and the world as well as focusing on nanoscience, one  of Northwestern’s 10 areas of greatest strength.
Source: Northwestern  University

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