Sustainable Nano on Open Access Sustainably

This post is part of our ongoing series of public-friendly summaries describing research articles that have been published by members of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. Dr. Rigoberto Hernandez (one of the co-authors of the article) wrote this description for his blog, Everywhere Chemistry, and kindly agreed to let us cross-post here at Sustainable Nano. 
The article was first published online in June 2015 in ACS Central Science.1
Cartoon of a nanoparticle interacting with a cell membrane. Modified from Murphy et al. (2015)1

“Biological Responses to Engineered Nanomaterials: Needs for the Next Decade.”

Sustainability’s future is now. Our recent article was just published in an all-electronic journal, ACS Central Science, which is among the first of the American Chemical Society (ACS) journals offered without a print option. It therefore embodies sustainability as it requires no paper resources, thereby limiting the journal’s carbon footprint to only what is required for maintaining the information electronically in perpetuity. It is also completely Open Access, which means our article is available for all to read. Does this equal accessibility (called “flat” because there is no hierarchy in levels of access) amount to yet another layer of sustainability? More on that question in a moment. Meanwhile, as the article itself is about sustainability, it embodies the repetitive word play in the title of this post.


But there is another double meaning in the publishing of this work: The flatness underlying the vision of Open Access2 is also at play in how the work was done. ELEVEN different research groups were involved in formulating the ideas and writing the paper. This lot provided tremendous breadth of expertise, but the flatness in the organizational effort allowed us to merge it all together. Of course, it wouldn’t have happened without significant leadership, and Cathy Murphy, the paper’s first author, orchestrated us all magnificently. While flatness in organizational behavior isn’t typically considered part of sustainability, in this case it provided for the efficient utilization of resources (in this case, ideas) across a broader cohort.

So what is our article about? Fifteen years into the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to develop new materials to solve the grand challenges that confront us in the areas of health, energy, and the environment. Nanoparticles are playing a significant role in new material development because they can provide human-scale effects with relatively small amounts of materials. The danger is that because of their special properties, the use of nanoparticles may have unintended consequences. Thus, many in the scientific community, including those of us involved in writing this article, are concerned with identifying rules for the design and fabrication of nanoparticles that will limit such negative effects, and hence make the particles sustainable by design. In our article, we propose that the solution of this grand challenge hinges on four critical needs:

  1. Chemically Driven Understanding of the Molecular Nature of Engineered Nanoparticles in Complex, Realistic Environments
  2. Real-Time Measurements of Nanomaterial Interaction with Living Cells and Organisms That Provide Chemical Information at Nanometer Length Scales To Yield Invaluable Mechanistic Insight and Improve Predictive Understanding of the Nano−Bio Interface.
  3. Delineation of Molecular Modes of Action for Nanomaterial Effects on Living Systems as Functions of Nanomaterial Properties
  4. Computation and Simulation of the Nano−Bio Interface.
In more accessible terms, this translates to: (1) It’s not enough to know how the nanoparticles behave in a test tube under clean conditions as we need to know how they might behave at the molecular scale in different solutions. (2) We also need to better understand and measure the effects of nanoparticles at contact points between inorganic materials and biological matter. (3) Not only do we need to observe how nanoparticles behave in relation to living systems, but to understand what drives that behavior at a molecular level. (4) In order to accelerate design and discovery as well as to avoid the use of materials whenever possible, we also need to design validated computational models for all of these processes.

Take a look at the article for the details as we collectively offer a blueprint for what research problems need to be solved in the short term (a decade or so), and how our team of nanoscientists, with broad experience in making, measuring, and simulating nanoparticles in complex environments, can make a difference.

  1. Murphy, C. Vartanian, A., Geiger, F., Hamers, R., Pedersen, J., Cui, Q., Haynes, C., Carlson, E., Hernandez, R., Klaper, R., Orr, G., & Rosenzweig, Z. Biological Responses to Engineered Nanomaterials: Needs for the Next Decade. ACS Central Science, 2015, article ASAP. doi: 10.1021/acscentsci.5b00182 (open access)
  2. Pedersen, J. & Geiger, F. How Open is Open Access? Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, 2015, 6(7), 1246–1248. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.5b00381 (read full text here)