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EPA and NSF Establish Nanotechnology Centers (posted 9/30/08)

September 30, 2008
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To ensure that nanotechnology is developed in a responsible manner, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded $38 million to establish two Centers for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINs). The new centers will conduct research on the possible environmental, health and safety impacts of nanomaterials using very different approaches than previous studies.

“Nanotechnology is an exciting field, with the promise of dramatic benefits for the environment,” said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “Working together, the EPA and NSF can improve our scientific understanding of nanoscale materials, develop the appropriate risk assessment framework, and make appropriate risk management decisions.”

The CEINs are an important addition to the National Nanotechnology Initiative and will build on the NSF’s Center for Biological and Environmental Technologies and the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants on nanotechnology. Led by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Duke University, the CEINs will study how nanomaterials interact with the environment and human health, resulting in better risk assessment and mitigation strategies to be used in the commercial development of nanotechnology. Each center will work as a network connected to multiple research organizations, industry and government agencies, and will emphasize interdisciplinary research and education.

The UCLA CEIN, to be housed at the California NanoSystems Institute on the UCLA campus, will develop a predictive scientific model to study the environmental and health effects of different types of nanomaterials and human health faster than can be done by traditional animal toxicity testing. The model to be developed will consider: which nanomaterials are most likely to come into contact with the environment, which animals/plants can act as early sentinels of environmental changes; and high throughput methods to screen many chemicals quickly.

At Duke University’s CEIN, researchers plan to study the potential environmental and biological effects on a wide range of nanomaterials (natural and man-made) using a novel outdoor laboratory approach. In the coming year, the research team will develop 32 tightly controlled and monitored ecosystems in 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.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/ncer/08CEIN.

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