Category: Nanotechnology

Characterizing nanoparticles in the 1880s

On May 29th, there were 52,000 nanoparticles per cubic centimeter of air measured at the top of the Eiffel Tower. This may not seem the most compelling opening to an article, until you realize that the measurement was made in 1889 – over 100 years before nanotechnology and nanoparticles began hitting headlines as one of the most talked about emerging technologies in recent decades. The particles were measured by the Scottish scientist John Aitken, using his newly developed device for counting airborne dust particles.

Continue Reading →

On Monday, the National Institute for Occupational Safety released new data on the potential role multi-walled carbon nanotubes play as a cancer-promoter – a substance that promotes the development of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.  In the study, mice were injected with methylcholanthrene – a cancer initiating agent – and subsequently exposed to airborne multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Compared to a control group, the methylcholanthrene and carbon nanotube-exposed mice were significantly more likely to develop tumors than a control group, developed more tumors, and developed larger tumors.  The study provides a strong indication that this particular form of carbon nanotube material can synergistically increase the likelihood and severity of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.

Continue Reading →

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a “TED style talk” on nanotechnology for the University of Michigan Environmental Health Sciences department 125th anniversary.  What they got was a short talk on “thinking small”: The other talks in the series are also worth checking out – covering topics as diverse as epigenetics, cancer, exposure science, obesity, endocrine disruptors, global health and mercury in the environment.  Watch them here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF87730C0E0C26FEA

Continue Reading →

TEM images of carbon particles from foods containing caramelized sugar. Click to see larger image. Source: Palashudding et al. Nanotechnology leads to novel materials, new exposures and potentially unique health and environmental risks – or so the argument goes.  But an increasing body of research is showing that relatively uniformly sized nanometer scale particles are part and parcel of the environment we live in.  For instance a number of simple organisms such as bacteria and diatoms have the capability to produce nanoparticles, either as part of their natural behavior or under specific conditions.  Nanoscale minerals, it seems, play an important role in shaping the world we live in.  Metals like silver wantonly shed silver nanoparticles into our food and water according to research published last year.  And now a group of researchers have shown that food containing caramelized sugar contains uniformly sized amorphous carbon particles. This latest paper was published in the journal Science Progress a few weeks ago, and analyzes the carbon nanoparticle content of such everyday foods as bread, caramelized sugar, corn flakes and biscuits.  The authors found that products containing caramelized sugar – including baked goods such as bread – contained spherical carbon nanoparticles in the range 4 – 30 nm (with size being associated with the temperature of caramelization).  This isn’t that surprising as nanoparticle formation is closely associated with hot processes.

Continue Reading →

Robin Erb has a good piece on cosmetics and safe ingredients in the Detroit Free Press this week – it tackles the very limited regulation over what goes into cosmetics, but balances this with a useful perspective on consumer choice and how this in turn can drive business decisions on what is used and how.  I mention it because the issue of nanoparticles in sunscreens comes up briefly, and I am quoted on the matter. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been fairly vocal about the safety of nanoparticles in sunscreens.  I still contend that the weight of published evidence suggests that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens do not present a significant when the relevant products are developed and used responsibly – and that the benefits of using this technology over others may in fact outweigh any residual risk.  But I’m also aware that this isn’t a closed issue – there are niggling questions on the use of photoactive particles, on nanoparticle sunscreen applications on delicate or compromised skin, and on dermal penetration of chemicals within the nanoparticles, that all need further research.  So I was surprised to read that my mind is apparently made up here! After talking with Robin about cosmetics, sunscreen and nanoparticles, she sent me draft of my comments to check for factual accuracy before the piece went to press.  The original text read: “…Agreed Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health: “The industry seems reasonably well self-regulating.” In his research, Maynard asked whether nanomaterials in sunscreen — the nearly molecular-sized particles that ease the lotion into our skin pores – are dangerous. His conclusion: They’re not. “It was really surprising, to be honest,” he said.” This was uncommonly

Continue Reading →

Not in the technical sense I’m afraid, but thought it would be fun to post this image of nano-branded M&Ms.  They were used as part of a recent NanoDays session with local school kids exploring the broader implications of nanotechnology. The only substantive link they have with real nano-enabled products as far as I can tell is the cost – they’re not cheap!

Continue Reading →

It’s been hard to avoid the buzz surrounding nano quadrotors this week, following the posting of Vijay Kumar’s jaw-dropping TED talk – and the associated viral video of the semi-autonomous machines playing the James Bond theme. The quadrotors are impressive – incredibly impressive.  But I’m sure I am not the only person watching these videos who felt a shiver of apprehension about where the technology might lead. When people talk about emerging technologies – especially when the focus is on potential risks and unintended consequences – it doesn’t take long for the usual suspects to emerge: with nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering usually appearing toward the top of the list.  But I wonder whether focusing on big, well-publicized technology trends sometimes masks some of the less discussed but more important technology innovations that are already impacting on people’s lives. Tim Harper and I underscored this concern in a report from the World Economic Forum last year where we suggested we should be focusing just as much on the innovations that build on synergistic connections between technology platforms (see below), because this is where many of the more significant disruptive and game-changing technologies will emerge. It’s partly because of this that I have been so intrigued by the nano quadrotor work coming out of the GRASP lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Technology innovation – building on technology platforms. World Economic Forum: Building a Sustainable Future The nano quadrotors that Vijay Kumar’s team are developing are a prime example of synergistic innovation leading to a game-changing technology.  The quadrotors combine components from multiple technology platforms – sensors, materials, information processing and others – and as a result they present opportunities and risks that depend on the synergism between these platforms.  In other words, the potential disruption comes not from the platforms,

Continue Reading →

A few weeks ago I spent some time chatting with Howard Lovy for an article for the Nanobusiness Commercialization Association.  That interview was posted by Vincent Caprio on his blog a few days ago, and raised a few eyebrows – was I showing signs of becoming a nano-risk skeptic? I hope not, as as I still feel emerging evidence and trends indicate major perceived and real risk-related barriers lie in the path of developing nanoscale science and engineering successfully, if we aren’t smart.  But I have always adhered to the idea that successful and responsible technology development depends on taking an evidence-based approach – even if that evidence is sometimes uncomfortable.  And so these days I sometimes worry that too much is made of artificial constructs surrounding “nanotechnology”, and not enough is made of the underlying science. Reading through Howard’s piece, I felt it was a pretty accurate reflection of our conversation.  There are a couple of places where it possibly indicates less concern on my part than is warranted.  Toward the end of the piece for instance I am quoted as saying “there is no need [for the nanobusiness community] to respond to individual challenges such as this lawsuit against the FDA”, referring to a recent lawsuit by consumer advocates against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which claims the FDA is failing to regulate nanomaterials in products. I’m pretty sure I did say something along these lines.  But the context was that lawsuits like these are a relatively widely used mechanism for holding federal agencies to account and prodding them into action.  And while they are often important, the nanobusiness community need to understand this context and be aware of the bigger picture when it comes to responsible and sustainable development. Overall though, the piece captures my increasing

Continue Reading →

This has just landed in my email in box from Craig Cormick at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in Australia, and I thought I would pass it on given the string of posts on nanoparticles in sunscreens on 2020 Science over the past few years: At Australia’s International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN 2012) earlier this month, the results of a public perception study were released that indicate some Australian consumers would rather risk skin cancer by not using sunscreen than use a product containing nanoparticles.  This despite increasing evidence that nanoparticles in sunscreens do not present a significant risk to health. The study was complimented by tests conducted by Australia’s National Measurement Institute that suggest some sunscreens labeled as “nano free” contain nanostructured material. According to the media release on the public perceptions study, “An online poll of 1,000 people, conducted in January this year, shows that one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them,” Dr Cormick said. “Thirteen percent of this group were concerned or confused enough that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen, whether or not it contained nanoparticles, putting them selves at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancers. “The study also found that while one in five respondents stated they would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, over three in five would need to know more information before deciding.” A news release sent out a couple of weeks ago to coincide with ICONN 2012 also noted Scientists from Australia’s National Measurement Institute and overseas collaborators reported on a technique using the scattering of synchrotron light to determine the sizes of particles in sunscreens. They found that some

Continue Reading →

Here’s an introduction to the “wonders and worries of nanotechnology” that I think is rather brilliant: It’s part of a series being produced by the Science Museum of Minnesota for the Nanoscale Informal Science Education network (NISE Net). The series is designed to stimulate discussions addressing the societal and ethical implication of nanotechnology – but in an accessible and non-threatening way. Keep your eyes peeled for further episodes with Mindy and Denny – having read through some of the draft scripts, I think you will enjoy them!

Continue Reading →

For the past few months, the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies has been working on identifying some of the most significant trends in technology innovation.  Published yesterday by WEF, these represent ten areas that we as a council felt are likely to shake things up over the next few years in terms of their economic and social impact. The plan is to update this assessment on an annual basis Here’s the list: Informatics for adding value to information The quantity of information now available to individuals and organizations is unprecedented in human history, and the rate of information generation continues to grow exponentially. Yet, the sheer volume of information is in danger of creating more noise than value, and as a result limiting its effective use. Innovations in how information is organized, mined and processed hold the key to filtering out the noise and using the growing wealth of global information to address emerging challenges. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering The natural world is a testament to the vast potential inherent in the genetic code at the core of all living organisms. Rapid advances in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering are allowing biologists and engineers to tap into this potential in unprecedented ways, enabling the development of new biological processes and organisms that are designed to serve specific purposes – whether converting biomass to chemicals, fuels and materials, producing new therapeutic drugs or protecting the body against harm. Green Revolution 2.0 – technologies for increased food and biomass Artificial fertilizers are one of the main achievements of modern chemistry, enabling unprecedented increases in crop production yield. Yet, the growing global demand for healthy and nutritious food is threatening to outstrip energy, water and land resources. By integrating advances across the biological and physical sciences, the new

Continue Reading →

The US National Academy of Science today published its long-awaited Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials. I won’t comment extensively on the report as I was a member of the committee that wrote it.  But I did want to highlight a number of aspects of it that I think are particularly noteworthy: Great progress so far, but it’s time to change gears. Something we grappled with as a committee was what the value of yet another research strategy was going to be.  After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the US federal government published a well received strategy of its own.  A key driver behind our strategy was a sense that the past decade has been one of defining the challenges we face as the field of nanotechnology develops, while the next decade will require more focus as an ever greater number of nanotechnology-enabled products hit the market.  In other words, from a research perspective it’s time to change gears, building on past work but focusing on rapidly emerging challenges. Combining life cycle and value chain in a single framework for approaching nanomaterial risk research.  As a committee, we spent considerable time developing a conceptual framework for approaching research addressing the health and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials.  What we ended up using was a combination of value chain – ranging from raw materials to intermediate products to final products – and material/product life cycle at each stage of the value chain.  This effectively allows risk hot spots to be identified at each point of a material and product’s development, use and disposal cycle. Principles, not definitions.  Rather than rely on a single definition of engineered nanomaterial to guide risk-related research, we incorporated a set of principles into our conceptual framework to help identify

Continue Reading →

Cross-posted from the Risk Science Blog The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report is one of the most authoritative annual assessments of emerging issues surrounding risk currently produced. Now in its seventh edition, the 2012 report launched today draws on over 460 experts* from industry, government, academia and civil society to provide insight into 50 global risks across five categories, within a ten-year forward looking window. Global Risk Landscape 2012. Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks 2012, Seventh Edition As you would expect from such a major undertaking, the report has its limitations. There are some risk trends that maybe aren’t captured as well as they could be – chronic disease and pandemics are further down the list this year than I would have expected. And there are others that capture the headlining concerns of the moment – severe income disparity is the top-listed global risk in terms of likelihood. But taken as a whole, the trends highlighted capture key concerns and the analysis provides timely and relevant insight. Risks are addressed in five broad categories, covering economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological risks. And cutting across these, the report considers three top-level issues under the headings Seeds of Dystopia (action or inaction that leads to fragility in states); How Safe are our Safeguards? (unintended consequences of over, under and unresponsive regulation); and The Dark Side of Connectivity (connectivity-induced vulnerability). These provide a strong framework for approaching the identified risks systemically, and teasing apart complex interactions that could lead to adverse consequences. But how does the report relate to public health more specifically? The short answer is that many of the issues raised have a direct or indirect impact on public health nationally and globally. Many of the issues are complex and intertwined, and are deserving of much more attention

Continue Reading →

I picked up a new toy this weekend. (If you want to cut to the chase and see what I’ve been doing with it, please head straight to the end of the post). I’m fascinated by the combination of old tech (essentially “chalk and talk”) and new media that Sal Kahn has been successfully using to teach mathematics and science on-line.  The basic approach he uses of writing and drawing while talking is as old as the hills.  But he successfully enhances this through “debundling” topics (breaking things down into small digestible chunks) and making his digitized chalk and talk lessons freely available as short online videos. Chalk and talk is a way of teaching I still find effective, as it forces me to develop ideas at a measured pace, while allowing my students to follow the thought process and take notes. But it’s an approach that is increasingly out of vogue as educators feel they have to pander to today’s tech-savvy and social media-immersed students.  So inspired by Sol Kahn, I’ve been looking at ways of combining this approach with new online tools to provide teaching resources that extend what can be achieved in the classroom. My first approach was to look at Kahn’s setup – essentially using a drawing tablet and software as a digital blackboard, and recording short videos to teach specific concepts and skills.  But after just a few minutes, I realized that this was a learning curve that was too steep for me (put it down to age!) – tablets have a remarkable ability to make everything look like it was drawn by a 3 year old, until you get the hang of it! Then I came across pencasts.

Continue Reading →

A guest blog by Craig Cormick. Over the past decade there has been a significant growth in public engagement activities relating to nanotechnology and when you look across all the data being generated you can learn a lot about how the public view the risks and benefits of the technology. That’s probably not news for anybody who follows this blog. But what might be news is to look closely at who is driving these engagements. Is it the public? Generally no.

Continue Reading →

The past few years has seen an explosion of interest in silver nanoparticles.  Along with a plethora of products using the particles to imbue antimicrobial properties on everything from socks to toothpaste, nanometer scale silver particles have been under intense scrutiny from researchers and policy makers concerned that they present an emerging health and environmental risk.  But a paper published last month in the journal ACS Nano suggests that, contrary to popular understanding, we’ve been exposed to silver nanoparticles for as long as we have been using the metal.

Continue Reading →

The latest iteration of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative’s Environmental, Health and Safety Research Strategy was released today – downloadable from nano.gov. A draft of the document has been on the streets since last December – this version was compiled after a public comment period on that draft that closed earlier this year (the key comments received are listed here). Given the comments received, I was interested to see how much they had influenced the final strategy.  If you take the time to comment on a federal document, it’s always nice to know that someone has paid attention.  Unfortunately, it isn’t usual practice for the federal government to respond directly to public comments, so I had the arduous task of carrying out a side by side comparison of the draft, and today’s document.

Continue Reading →

The European Commission had just adopted a “cross-cutting designation of nanomaterials to be used for all regulatory purposes” (link). The definition builds on a draft definition released last year, but includes a number of substantial changes to this. Here’s the full text of the definition:

Continue Reading →

This coming Thursday (Oct 20 2011), the US National Nanotechnology Initiative is releasing the latest version of the Initiative’s federal nanotechnology environmental, health and safety research strategy.  The strategy will be available for download from 10:00 AM Eastern time, with a webinar on the release being held between 12:00 PM – 12:45 PM Eastern (registration required).  Further details can be found here. A draft of the research strategy was published in December 2010 for public comment – with the aim of using these comments where appropriate to strengthen the final strategy. In anticipation of the final version coming out on Thursday, I’ve been revisiting the public comments received.  They are still accessible on the NNI Strategy Portal, although you will need to register to read them (my comments are available separately here).  I’m particularly interested in how the NNI has addressed them in the final strategy.

Continue Reading →

Cross-posted from The Risk Science Blog: In a recent letter to the journal Nature (Nature 476; 399), Hermann Stamm of the European Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (JRC-IHCP) defended the need to define engineered nanomaterials for regulatory purposes. The letter, titled “Nanomaterials should be defined”, was a direct response to my earlier commentary in Nature “Don’t define nanomaterials”. Stamm’s letter is behind a paywall and so not easily accessible to many readers. But these are the main points he makes:

Continue Reading →
ABOUT
 

2020 Science is the creation of Andrew Maynard - a Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. Andrew spends his time obsessing over effective science communication; the responsible development and use of emerging technologies; and how understanding risk can help inform smart decisions.  

As well as writing a regular column for the journal Nature Nanotechnology, He posts regularly here at "2020 Science", and on Twitter as @2020science.  He also produces short, entertaining, and (hopefully) informative videos on understanding health risks on his YouTube channel Risk Bites

CONNECT
 

TWITTER: @2020science

YOUTUBE: Risk Bites

FACEBOOK: 2020 Science

LINKEDIN: ANDREW MAYNARD

EMAIL: maynarda@umich.edu

FOLLOW ON TWITTER
Follow me on Twitter
SUBSCRIBE TO WEBSITE

Please enter your email address to receive notifications of new 2020 Science posts by email.

Join 25 other subscribers

LATEST POSTS
MORE FROM 2020 SCIENCE
 

2020 SCIENCE ARCHIVE

ABOUT