Environmental Protection Agency representative tours the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology center

Agnes Constante

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson visited University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology Friday to tour the facility. The center's main hub is located at UCLA and received $24 million in federal funding for nanotechnology research. Photo credit: Agnes Constante

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson visited UCLA Friday to tour its Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology.

The center, which was founded in September of 2008, was granted $24 million from the EPA and National Science Foundation.

“(Nanotechnology) is a new science that is going to change our economy,” said Andre Nel, professor of medicine at UCLA. “It’s going to change how we can take care of the environment, it’s going to change healthcare, it’s going to make safer energy.”

The University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology aims to ensure the safe use of nanotechnology so the world can benefit from the science both economically and socially.

“Nanotechnology is here and it is the future,” Jackson said. “We’re very proud to be co-funders of the center, especially because they’re actually only finding problems because then they turn around and find the solution at the same time.”

The field of nanotechnology focuses on the study and application of matter between one to 100 nanometers, as stated on the National Nanotechnology Initiative website, and typically involves the manipulation of atoms and molecules.

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, and there are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch, the website states.

By integrating data from various scientific fields (including microbiology, bacteriology, ecology, cell biology and biostatistics, among others), scientists at the center have created a predictive platform that can indicate the extent of environmental impact of engineered nanomaterials.

“What really is striking is the integration (allows for) immediate feedback so that as (scientists are) learning about these materials and where there might be implications and environmental concern, there’s feedback right away into how to fix the problem,” Jackson said.

The new science holds the potential to change many aspects in society, but there are possible negative implications in nanotechnology. For this reason, Jackson said research conducted at the center is also keeping an eye out for environmental consequences.

“We’re asking the questions earlier. It’s like preventative medicine in a way. There’s so many things that we learned after the fact were bad for us and then we spend years and years trying to clean up waste or worry about air pollution or build cleaner cars,” Jackson said.

The center is located in the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. A second center is located at the University of California, Santa Barbara.