On September 18, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that, 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 (CEIN). EPA contributed $5 million to the overall award, which is the largest award for nanotechnology research in its history. The CEINs will conduct research on the possible environmental, health, and safety impacts of nanomaterials, using very different approaches than previous studies. Led by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Duke University, the CEINs will study how nanomaterials interact with the environment and human health, and are intended to result in better risk assessment and mitigation strategies to be used in the commercial development of nanotechnology. Each CEIN will work as a network, connected to multiple research organizations, industry, and government agencies, and will emphasize interdisciplinary research and education.
According to EPA, the UCLA CEIN 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.