How Perceived Fears May Influence Companies’ Labeling of Nanoparticles

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article about THINX, a new company that is innovating women’s underwear. They are using existing technologies to improve women’s underwear; specifically a special “silver treatment” for its anti-microbial properties. I was very excited about this because I have read about the antibacterial properties of silver, especially silver nanoparticles, and how they are being used in consumer products. (For example, see our post on silver in socks.) Unfortunately, THINX did not provide more information about the technology they were using to make their products so I don’t know for sure whether they’re using nanoparticles or “bulk” silver. This made me wonder, why wasn’t the company more specific about the technology behind their “silver treatment”?

Cartoon of underwear with silver nanoparticles

Silver treatment?? (Image adapted from pixabay)

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Why Shouldn’t We Toss Lithium-Ion Batteries in the Trash?

If you’re like me, you might already have a pile of old electronics in your basement, waiting for you to figure out what to do with them. You haven’t put them out with the trash, because you know it’s a good idea to keep them out of landfills… But why is that?  Researchers have known for a long time that the heavy metals used in batteries in these items could pose risks to human health or the environment if they leech out of the batteries into landfills, and from there into soil and groundwater.1,2 However, the use of nanomaterials in batteries is much newer, and therefore it is really important to understand what happens when these nanomaterials potentially find their way out of the batteries, reach a landfill, and eventually encounter the cell membranes of organisms in the environment!

parked electric cars

Some electric cars use batteries with lithium cobalt oxide nanomaterials. (Image source)

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How Can You Tell if Bacteria are Alive or Dead?

Think about the last time you cooked meat, wiped down a countertop with Lysol, or used hand sanitizer. You already know that these actions will help to kill bacteria that might make you sick, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could easily tell whether your efforts had been effective—that is, how many of the bacteria you were trying to kill are actually dead? Scientists have developed tools that can be used in the laboratory to answer this question. We in the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) make particular use of one such tool, called the Live/Dead® BacLight™ assay,1 to study if and how nanoparticles kill bacteria. Unfortunately, this tool doesn’t allow us to distinguish between good bacteria and harmful bacteria, so it would be impractical to use it to check for bacteria in your food, on your counter, or on your hands. It also requires the use of some specialized equipment, so for now it is just an extremely useful tool for research purposes.2

hand sanitizer and bacteria

Figure 1. Hand sanitizer is used to kill bacteria such as E. coli, which are depicted here. (Hand sanitizer image sourceE. coli image source: NIAID)

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Will Ingesting Gold Nanoparticles Make Me Smarter?

“I want to ingest nanogold as an experiment to see if it really does turn your brain into a hyper processor.”
– question submitted by a Sustainable Nano reader

As a chemist, I cringe at the thought of drinking nanoparticles (or anything) out of a beaker in lab. In fact, my knee-jerk response to your question was “DON’T DO IT!” However, a lot of nanoparticles are FDA approved and used for medical purposes, most of which are injected; some are also approved for ingestion as food additives.1 There are also many more hopeful candidates for medical diagnostics and therapeutics in development, awaiting further testing and approval. It is important to recognize that drug development, with small molecules or nanoparticles, requires a lot of lengthy and costly benchmarks before any clinical trials with humans are attempted.2,3

drinking water

Drink water, not nanoparticles! (image by Emilian Robert Vicol)

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Buckle Your Seat Belts: The Phase II Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology is Ready for Launch!

Over the last 10 years the world has seen revolutionary changes in how we see, how we communicate, and how we move. That new hybrid vehicle you’re driving? Its batteries are made possible by the ability to control the nanostructure of new kinds of materials. That new laptop or e-reader display? The light you see is likely being emitted by nanoparticles called “quantum dots” made from cadmium selenide. The revolution in nanoscale materials and nanotechnology is fueling revolutionary changes in our lives, many of which have the potential to increase the sustainability of our planet.

Quantum dots

Nanotechnology: Quantum dots used to detect cancer.   Image by the National Cancer Institute

What’s the catch?

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Seven Tips for Attending Your First Big Conference

Next week, over ten thousand people will converge on the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for the fall 2015 meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The ACS was founded in 1876 and has grown to 158,000 members, making it the largest scientific society in the world. Attending such a big conference can seem a little daunting the first time, so Sustainable Nano is here to help you make the most of your ACS (or other conference) experience! The following is a handy list of conference tips and suggestions compiled from students, faculty, and friends of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.


The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.     image by Groupe Canam

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How Do Nanoparticles Stick to Bacteria? Or, How Are Cell Membranes Like Velcro?

Scientists have known for some time that nanomaterials can stick to cell membranes and, in some cases, damage the membrane in the process. But what exactly do nanomaterials stick to on the cell membrane? A particular type of molecule called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) may provide a key to answering this question.1


An example lipopolysaccharide (LPS) molecule. image by Mike Jones

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