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 NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $6 billion.
The centers are to 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.
As posted about on MassTortDefense before, nanoparticles are as much as a million times smaller than the head of a pin, and have unusual properties compared with larger objects made from the same material. These unusual properties make nanomaterials attractive for use in everything from computer hard-drives to sunscreens, cosmetics and medical technologies. And 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.
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 by some observers to become a $1 trillion industry within the next decade.
A major effort for the research team over the coming year is to develop 32 tightly instrumented ecosystems in the Duke Forest in Durham, N.C. 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.