Our Day of TV News Glory

Last Thursday, the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology had a brush with mainstream media exposure: A Twin Cities TV station, KMSP: Fox 9, did a story about a recent CSN publication for the 9 o’clock news! The opportunity to get such broad public exposure for our research was really exciting.

Ian explaining

Grad students Ian Gunsolus (being interviewed, right) and Natalie Hudson-Smith (running an NMC experiment, left). Can you spot the typo? (Screen shot from Fox 9’s website)

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Nanotechnology and Climate Change: Finding Connections

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to go the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study (“HWK”) in Delmenhorst, Germany, for a round-table discussion called “Finding Common Ground: Interdisciplinary Teaching of Climate Change and Energy Research and Policy Decision Making.”


The program for our roundtable meeting at the HWK (photo by Cathy Murphy)

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How Green is Iceland?

Before I travelled to Iceland for the first time in August the only thing I really knew about the country was “Iceland is green and Greenland is ice.” Some lessons from elementary school really stick with you forever. And yes, after arriving in Iceland I quickly realized that it is a moss-covered wonderland. But it wasn’t just Iceland’s landscape that was green. Iceland’s energy is green as well!

hiking, mountain

Hiking around the green landscape in þórsmörk. (photo by Julianne Troiano)

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Carbon Nanotubes: the Next Generation of Global Water Purification?

My typical day (maybe like yours) involves waking up, taking a 10 minute shower, cooking breakfast, running the dishwasher if it’s full, going to work, eating dinner with a refreshing glass of filtered water, and maybe tackling a load of laundry in the evening. None of these actions feel extravagant, but when I look at statistics of global water usage and the lack of fresh water availability, it’s obvious that as Americans, we consume significantly more gallons of water per day than anywhere else in the world. In fact, on average each American uses about 152 gallons of water daily, while people in some other countries such as Uganda and Haiti use only about 4 gallons.1

That extreme low usage in some countries is not just because people are very conservation-minded – it is largely because there is not enough clean water to go around. Living in Wisconsin, I am conscientious of my water intake, but I am fortunate to not be in constant fear of turning on the faucet to see no water or even dirty water pouring out. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from the recent experience of people in Flint, Michigan, it is not only countries outside the U.S. that have to worry about availability of clean water.

Personally, a trip to Israel last winter was what forced me to step out of my typical routine and experience firsthand how precious water is to their nation as a natural resource. My guide on the trip encouraged us to shower efficiently, never leave the water running while doing dishes, and to purchase bottled water, but to never waste a drop.

woman drinking

Enjoying the availability of fresh, clean water. (image by Elvert Barnes)

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Carbon Nanotubes as Flame Retardants: Is the Cure worse than the Cold?

According to the US National Fire Protection Association, nearly 20 percent of home fire deaths between 2006 and 2010 occurred in fires where upholstered furniture was the first item to ignite.1 In order to try to prevent this, many materials incorporate a flame retardant: a mixture of chemicals that is added to materials such as plastics and textiles in order to inhibit, suppress, or delay the material’s destruction when it is exposed to fire.2 Flame retardants are found in many everyday materials, from textiles in airplane seat cushions and military uniforms to the urethane foams in infant mattresses to plasticizers in construction and automotive materials.

burning couch

A couch apparently lacking in flame retardant upholstery. (image by Figure8)

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Sunburns and Circuits: How Nanotechnology is Pushing the Boundaries of Computing

Last July, IBM announced that it had developed a new computer chip that could boost computer speeds by 50%.1 The company achieved this performance boost by building their chip with transistors a mere 7 nanometers in diameter. To put this incredible feat of engineering into perspective, the building blocks of these new chips are smaller than the virus that may cause you to get a cold this winter!

July was a bit slower for me than it was for the folks at IBM, so one day I decided to go to the beach. Due to my hasty and incomplete application of sunscreen earlier in the day, I developed a sunburn which left a strange pattern on my skin and a small blister on my shoulder. You might be wondering what IBM’s hard work and my sunny day at the beach have in common. It may seem far-fetched, but these events are actually related: both IBM’s new speed secret and my beach mishap involve ultraviolet (UV) light.

UV masking

Figure 1. What do sunburns and nanoscale transistors have in common? UV light. (image by Tony Alter)

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2015: Sustainable Nano Year in Review

It’s time for our 2015 year-end roundup for Sustainable Nano and the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.

It’s been an exciting year for the CSN, culminating in September’s announcement that we were awarded Phase II grant funding from the National Science Foundation. This means we get to stick around and keep doing great science (and writing this blog) for at least another five years.

Here on the blog, WordPress tells us that Sustainable Nano has had about 120,000 visitors this year, almost double our traffic for 2014! We’ve published 50 new posts (including this one); about 40% were written by graduate students, about 10% by undergraduates, and the rest by our faculty, staff, and fabulous guest bloggers.


A blue morpho butterfly from Mimicking Nature’s Nanotechnology, one of our most popular posts of 2015   (image from Wikimedia Commons)

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