On land, nanometer-scale hematite catalyzes the oxidation of manganese, resulting in the rapid formation of minerals that absorb heavy metals in water and soils. The rate of oxidation is increased when nanoparticles are present.
Conversely, harmful heavy metals may disperse widely, courtesy of nanominerals. In research at the Clark Fork River Superfund Complex in Montana, Hochella discovered a nanomineral involved in the movement of lead, arsenic, copper, and zinc through hundred of miles of Clark River drainage basin.
Nanominerals can also move radioactive substances. Research at one of the most contaminated nuclear sites in the world, a nuclear waste reprocessing plant in Mayak, Russian, has shown that plutonium travels in local groundwater, carried by mineral nanoparticles.
In the atmosphere, mineral nanoparticles impact heating and cooling. Such particles act as water droplet growth centers, which lead to cloud formation. The size and density of droplets influences solar radiation and cloud longevity, which in turn influence average global temperatures.
"The biogeochemical and ecological impact of natural and synthetic nanomaterials is one of the fastest growing areas of research, with not only vital scientific, but also large environmental, economic, and political consequences," the authors conclude.
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation