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When you’re done, you may enjoy celebrating the U.S. Fourth of July holiday by re-reading our post about nanomaterials making their way into fireworks; or check out this infographic from Compound Interest about the Chemistry of Sparklers:
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When we talk about sustainability in chemistry, one thing we have to think about is how the chemicals we use in our experiments may affect the environment. The traditional production of nanoparticles frequently involves the use of toxic materials such as harsh solvents and surfactants to synthesize a diverse array of nanoparticles that range from metals through metal oxides.1 A big concern is that disposal of these toxic materials in the environment may directly affect all organisms living in it, and subsequently change the ecological equilibrium of a particular ecosystem.
At this point you may wonder if there are any sustainable ways to produce nanoparticles. I have some good news: a new way to prepare nanoparticles has slowly made its way into nanotechnology, and it uses plants!
For the first post that I wrote for the blog 2 years ago, I discussed some of the cool things that focused, high intensity light from a laser can do. For example, under the right circumstances laser light can change color (wavelength) when passing through certain materials. We use this cool phenomenon, called frequency doubling, to conduct experiments within the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.
Lasers are used for a lot of great research being conducted at laboratories around the world. Recently I came across one example that really caught my interest: researchers at the University of Cambridge are using laser light like a needle to thread together nanoparticles.
Last month, I was featured on The Academic Minute, a segment produced by radio station WAMC in the northeastern US. The Academic Minute presents 300-word essays by professors and academics around the world explaining research topics for a non-specialist audience. In my case, that topic was gold nanotechnology.
Gold nanoparticles with hexagonal (I), cubic (II), rectangular (III), star (IV), dog bone (V), and rod (VI) shapes. Adapted with permission from Alkilany, Lohse, & Murphy (2013).1
This post is part of our occasional “How is that sustainable?” series. You can see our previous post on paper vs. plastic here.
This spring, New York City banned the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage containers, effective July 1. (EPS is often colloquially called styrofoam, after DOW’s trademarked brand.)
Although EPS is technically a recyclable type of plastic, it turns out that using it and then recycling it is really not sustainable, which is why it is becoming less and less common to see the material used for things like takeout containers and packing peanuts.
C&E News‘ series “Speaking of Chemistry” recently posted this video explaining the issue, called “Why Don’t We Recycle Styrofoam?”
For more information on this topic, here are a few interesting resources:
- Daneman, M. (Dec 21, 2013) More cities ban polystyrene foam, citing environment. USA Today.
- Hogue, C. (Jan 12, 2015) New York City Bans Expanded Polystyrene Food Containers, Opens Market To Alternatives. Chemical & Engineering News, Latest News.
- The Sustainable Packaging Coalition
- Tullo, A. (2015) Fuming Over Foam. Chemical & Engineering News, 93(12), 23-25.
- Wu, A. (July 18, 2014) Good product, bad package: top sustainable packaging mistakes. The Guardian.
For decades, Americans have spent billions of dollars on vitamin and mineral supplements,1 and despite concerns about effectiveness and safety,2 a 2013 Gallup poll found that half of Americans take a supplement regularly.3 As nanoparticles have made their way into medicine and pharmaceuticals, they have also moved into the health supplement industry. In this post, I will explore how nanoparticles are being used in vitamins and supplements.