Nanotech observers consider its impact on health and safety

Cynthia Gomez

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The Department of Environmental and Occupational Health invited students, professors and other members of the public last Wednesday to the 2008 Environmental and Occupational Health Technical Symposium, “Nanotechnology: Science and Safety.”

Approximately 200 people attended the event, which focused on the fundamentals of nanotechnology and the health and safety impacts of nanotechnology.

Antonio F. Machado, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at CSUN, discussed the purpose of having a symposium on nanotechnology.

“It’s intended for students first and foremost, but also for professionals in the field and for scientists, faculty members here at Cal State Northridge to kind of, in some ways, reproduce faculty discussions that we’ve had over the years about nanotechnology and potential safety impact,” Machado said.

Machado said that for people to know about nanotechnology at the symposium, the EOH invited three speakers to talk about the understanding and the issues of nanotechnology.

The first speaker of the event was CSUN physics professor Nicholas Kioussis, who presented a PowerPoint presentation, “The Brave New World of Nanotechnology,” which focused on the basics and facts of nanotechnology.

“We see nanotechnology in every part of our lives,” Kioussis said. “We see it in movies such as ‘Hulk’ (and) ‘Spider-Man.’ We see it in books such as the book ‘Prey’ by Michael Crichton.”

Kioussis said during the past few years, there has been a progress in nanotechnology in our everyday lives. One example that Kioussis gave is the use of hard drives, which uses nanotechnology to “read or write” information. Kioussis said that the iPod nano is not a nano object, but rather, it uses technology that is used in personal computer and laptops.

“I think Apple uses the term nano just to make it, perhaps suggest, this is the smallest (iPod),” Kioussis said.

One of the issues of nanotechnology that Kioussis touched on was the question of whether nanotechnology will be the next Industrial Revolution. Kioussis presented a graph that showed the growth of the use of nanotechnology.

“We have seen the tip of the iceberg,” Kioussis said. “Clearly we see the impacts of nanotechnology in many parts of our lives.”

“There many definitions, but I think most people would agree that nanotechnology involves looking,” Kioussis said. “We’re investigating and understanding matter in two different structures at the nanometer scale.”

Kioussis discussed the nanometer scale, adding that a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. One example Kioussis used of a nanometer is a buckyball, which is made out of carbon atoms in the shape of a soccer ball.

Kioussis said that if you take 10 hydrogen atoms and stretch them in a straight line, the distance of the 10 hydrogen atoms is one nanometer.

Kioussis questioned how a buckyball is compared to a soccer ball. “The answer is that a buckyball is to a soccer ball as a soccer ball is to the planet Neptune,” he said. “So that can tell you really the ratio or the comparison of length scale between nano (meters) and micro (meters).”

Kioussis discussed the fundamentals of a nanotube. Kioussis said nanotubes have a shield made of carbon atoms that lets nanotubes bend in different ways. He said that nanotubes create kinks or bends and in order for nanotubes and kinks to connect together, defects, which are hexagons and pentagons that can create voltages or currents, need to be created.

Kioussis gave an example of a “space elevator,” which used carbon nanotubes.

“The idea is to try to use carbon nanotubes as an elevator to connect satellites in with the Earth,” he said. “You can think that it creates a cable which links satellite with the Earth and one of the questions was that the cable, as it’s storming up, it’s about to collapse.” He added that if steel rods, even though they are strong materials, were used to create a “space elevator,” they too can collapse because of their heavy weight.

Patricia Holden, professor of environmental microbiology at UC Santa Barbara, presented a PowerPoint, “A Survey of Current Practices in the Nanotechnology Workplace.”

Holden said the survey was a research project, initiated with an organization called International Council on Nanotechnology, which was performed in 2006 by an interdisciplinary team of scientists including social and natural scientists.

“The survey was performed of what we call nanomaterials organizations, so these are companies, research labs and university labs all over the world. Those who chose to participate in this survey to tell us how they’re working with nanomaterials in their workplace and how they’re advising the consumers to work with their materials that contain nanoparticles,” Holden said.

“They (the scientists) really wanted to find out what are companies that manufacture or distribute or research in nanomaterials, what are they doing in regards to environmental public safety in the workplace and the recommendations to their consumers,” Holden said.

Holden said 500 products on the market claim to have nanomaterial incorporated into them. She said that consumer products, such as children’s toys, appliances and many other products, are coated with nanosilver, which comes in all different shapes and sizes.

The keynote speaker of the symposium, Vladimir Murashov, special assistant on nanotechnology to the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, gave a PowerPoint presentation, “Nanotechnology: Is There Risk?”

“The main purpose was to describe (the) NIOSH research program around nanotechnology implicational safety and health and to raise awareness in the ordinance about NIOSH products in that area to point them (people) to resources available from NIOSH to help them establish certain specific occupational safety and health products around nanotechnology,” Murashov said.

A question and answer session was followed after every speaker.

Kimberley Heraux, manager of the Information Technology project at CSUN, expressed her reactions and thoughts about the symposium.

“I really enjoyed the first presenter Dr. Nicholas Kioussis because I came here, I felt really (like) I don’t know anything about nanotechnology other than what I’ve seen in science fiction,” Heraux said. “To me, it was really interesting and it’s also fascinating to hear about what CSUN is doing, especially the program we have going where (Kioussis) mentioned that we have recently started a collaborative work with Princeton.”

Anne Lloyd, analyst of the Information Technology project at CSUN, said she was curious about the “science elevator” Kioussis presented in his discussion.

“I wonder if you could use that same nanocarbon tubing for building construction and if those would withstand hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes and if anybody is looking at that,” Lloyd said.

Ralph Jones, president of the EOH Alumni Chapter and symposium co-chairman, commented on people’s reactions to the symposium.

“The people that I’ve talked to were very, very impressed with the speakers and they thought it was a symposium of great value for them,” he said.