BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Quantum dots made from cadmium and selenium degrade in soil, unleashing toxic cadmium and selenium ions into their surroundings, a University at Buffalo study has found.
The research, accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, demonstrates the importance of learning more about how quantum dots -- and other nanomaterials -- interact with the environment after disposal, said Diana Aga, the chemistry professor who led the study.
Quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals with diameters of about 2 to 100 nanometers. Though quantum dots are not yet commonly used in consumer products, scientists are exploring the particles' applications in technologies ranging from solar panels to biomedical imaging.
"Quantum dots are not yet used widely, but they have a lot of potential and we can anticipate that the use of this nanomaterial will increase," said Aga, who presented the findings in late June at a National Science Foundation-funded workshop on nanomaterials in the environment. "We can also anticipate that their occurrence in the environment will also increase, and we need to be proactive and learn more about whether these materials will be a problem when they enter the environment."
"We can conclude from our research that there is potential for some negative impacts, since the quantum dots biodegrade. But there is also a possibility to modify the chemistry, the surface of the nanomaterials, to prevent degradation in the future," she said.
Aga's research into the afterlife of quantum dots is funded by a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to investigate the environmental transport, biodegradation and bioaccumulation of quantum dots and oxide nanoparticles.
Her collaborators on the new study in Environmental Science and Technology include PhD student Divina Navarro, Assistant Professor Sarbajit Banerjee and Associate Professor David Watson, all
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University at Buffalo