Chemist monitors nanotechnology's environmental impact

March 25, 2010
Omowunmi Sadik, director of Binghamton University's Center for Advanced Sensors and Environmental Systems, is developing sensors that would detect and identify engineered nanoparticles. Credit: Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University

Interest in 'green' innovation means not just thinking big but also very, very, very small.

At least that's the way Omowunmi Sadik, director of Binghamton University's Center for Advanced Sensors and Environmental Systems, sees it. She's working to develop sensors that would detect and identify engineered nanoparticles. Her research will advance our understanding of the risks associated with the environmental release and transformation of these .

"Society has a duty to not only consider the positive sides of science and technology but also the not-so-desirable sides of technology itself," said Sadik, a professor of chemistry. "We need to think not just about how to make these nanoparticles but also about their impact on and the environment."

A survey by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies found that nanoparticles — particles less than 100 in size — are now used in more than 1,000 consumer products ranging from cars to food. Silver nanoparticles are widely used as in cookware and tableware and as ingredients in laundry liquids and clothes because of their antibacterial properties. You can even buy socks infused with silver nanoparticles designed to reduce bacteria and odor.

"But what happens if we buy those socks and we wash them?" Sadik asked. "The nanoparticles end up in our water system."

Little is known about how these and other engineered nanoparticles interact with our , the soil and the air. Some are known toxins; others have properties similar to . And it's difficult, if not downright impossible, to monitor them. Current techniques rely on huge microscopes to identify nanoparticles, but the devices are not portable and do not provide information about the toxicity of materials.

Sadik and a Binghamton colleague, Howard Wang, have received funding from the to design, create and test sensors for monitoring engineered nanoparticles and naturally occurring cell particles.

"We need to understand the chemical transformation of these materials in the ecosystem so we can take action to prevent unnecessary exposure," Sadik said.

Her lab has already created a membrane that will not only trap a single nanoparticle but also provide a means of signal generation. It uses cyclodextrin, whose molecular structure resembles a tiny cup. "It can be used not only as a sensor, but also for cleanup," Sadik said.

That discovery and others make Sadik believe that nanotechnology may also prove useful in the remediation of environmental pollutants. Green nanotechnology could even reduce the use of solvents and result in manufacturing protocols that produce less waste, she said.

For instance, Sadik has used nanoparticles to transform Chromium 6, a known carcinogen, into Chromium 3, which is benign. "I do see the positive side of it," she said.

"We want to be able to develop nanomaterials while avoiding the unintended consequences of such developments," Sadik added. "We don't want to stop development, but we do want to encourage responsibility."

Explore further: RESEARCHERS USING PROTEINS TO DEVELOP NANOPARTICLES TO AID IN ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION

Related Stories

EPA wants nanotechnology studied

March 16, 2006

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded grants worth $5 billion Thursday for a study of the health and environmental effects of nanotechnology.

Green chemistry can help nanotechnology mature, professor says

February 19, 2007

“Around the world, there is a growing urgency about nanotechnology and its possible health and environmental impacts,” Hutchison said in his talk Sunday during a workshop at the annual meeting of the American Association ...

Knocking nanoparticles off the socks

October 28, 2009

Scientists in Switzerland are reporting results of one of the first studies on the release of silver nanoparticles from laundering those anti-odor, anti-bacterial socks now on the market. Their findings, scheduled for the ...

Recommended for you

Reshaping the solar spectrum to turn light to electricity

July 28, 2015

When it comes to installing solar cells, labor cost and the cost of the land to house them constitute the bulk of the expense. The solar cells—made often of silicon or cadmium telluride—rarely cost more than 20 percent ...

Could stronger, tougher paper replace metal?

July 24, 2015

Researchers at the University of Maryland recently discovered that paper made of cellulose fibers is tougher and stronger the smaller the fibers get. For a long time, engineers have sought a material that is both strong (resistant ...

Changing the color of light

July 23, 2015

Researchers at the University of Delaware have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to explore a new idea that could improve solar cells, medical imaging and even cancer treatments. Simply put, they want ...

Wafer-thin material heralds future of wearable technology

July 27, 2015

UOW's Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) has successfully pioneered a way to construct a flexible, foldable and lightweight energy storage device that provides the building blocks for next-generation ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.