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Nanotechnology: A brave new world requires bold new research approaches

(Washington, D.C. - Sept. 18, 2008) Nanotechnology opens new worlds of possibilities for important computer, medical and environmental applications. To ensure nanotechnology is developed in a responsible manner, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and EPA awarded $38 million to establish two Centers for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINs). EPA contributed $5 million to the overall award, which is the largest award for nanotechnology research in the Agency's history. 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, 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 NSF's Center for Biological and Environmental Technologies and EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants on nanotechnology. Led by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Duke University, the CEIN 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 - from natural to 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.


Contact: Suzanne Ackerman
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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