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Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology

The Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, which jointly came up with $14.4 million in seed money for the center in 2008. CEINT’s primary focus is to look into the possibility that nanoparticles could themselves cause damage to our environment.

Nanoparticles are not only tiny but have different properties from the same material at the above-nano scale. This makes nanomaterials appealing because they can be used in a variety of settings to make products stronger, more lightweight, and so on.

However, new materials with new properties could cause unintended and unanticipated problems. For example, silver nanoparticles are useful in killing bacteria and are already being used in some household products.

One study by researchers at Purdue University, however, found that silver nanoparticles suspended in a solution were toxic to minnows. If silver nanoparticles released by detergents or other household products were to get into our water supply, they could pose a danger to fish and other life-forms.

The goal of CEINT is to establish the relationship between nanomaterials and possible side effects of their use, whether by creating byproducts, biological changes, or environmental damage. Four core universities are involved in the effort: Duke, Howard, Virginia Tech, and Carnegie Mellon. They share facilities for analysis and nanofabrication and jointly offer one of the best resources in the world for research in this area.

CEINT research revolves around three themes:

  • Exposure: Transport and transformations in laboratory systems

  • Cellular and organismal responses

  • Ecosystem responses

Their work involves the creation of highly controlled ecosystems (also called mesocosms). These 3-by-12-foot areas host nanoparticles that the researchers study for their effects on organic life forms such as fish or bacteria. These mesocosms provide information used in experiments across the four facilities. You can visit their website to learn more about their developments.

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