W9: Nano Toxicology by Stephanie Mercier

This week we talked about nanotechnology. Professor Vesna talked about buckminsterfullerenes aka bucky balls and other nano particles. But even though she talked for a long time about them, I’m still very unclear about what they are and what they do. All I really know about them now is that they were named after Richard Buckminster Fuller, they’re made out of carbon, and they’re shaped like a crazy geometric sphere.

It seems that the internet is not a big help either in understanding what bucky balls actually are and do, but I did find a cool video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFoC-uxRqCg

Anyway, all I know now is the exact dimensions (60 vertices and 32 faces) which helped me understand why they’re also called C60. The same goes for nanoparticles. All I know now is that they’re really small (which I knew before), that they’re in many products, and they’re possibly toxic. Clear sunscreen, stain resistant khakis, and high performance tennis balls among a plethora of other products, contain nanoparticles. Often these products do not mention that they contain nanoparticles on their packages. If products do have “nano” on their packages it’s often not a reference to nanotechnology, but a reference to the small size of the product, such as the ipod nano.

ipod nano

ipod nano

Although, many companies are taking advantage of nanotechnology, these nanoparticles may prove to be toxic. As the Guest Lecturer for this week, James Gimzewski, pointed out, carbon nano tubes are already on the FDA’s list of possible toxic substances. On the list of possible toxic substances because researchers just don’t know if they’re toxic or not since there have been only few toxilogical studies on nanoparticles. Wired.com reports that some groups have suggested that nanoparticles be taken off the market until further studies have been conducted. I agree that nanoparticles should be taken off the market especially in cosmetics and food until further studies have been conducted. Many cosmetics contain nanoparticles, especially those that are advertised as long lasting. As Gimzewski stated, cosmetics have no approval system or testing. As long as the materials used in the products are not on the list of toxic substances, cosmetic companies are allowed to use nanoparticles. This is unfortunate, since sunscreens in Australia containing similar nanoparticles have already proved to be potentially skin damaging. Still others have concerns that like some microparticles, nanoparticles could be potentially lead to breathing problems in animals. This is why I would like to have nanoparticles banned from certain products like cosmetics and food. Unfortunately it seems very unlikely that any ban be enacted since there is so little research being done of the subject and there is a high demand for these nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are being used to make lipsticks longer lasting, to prevent stains on clothes, to make sunscreen clear, to make batteries last longer, amongst other applications. Nanotechnology is a booming industry. Everyone wants to use a little to make their products last longer, smaller, and stronger, but unfortunately we still don’t know the dangers and consequences of these tiny particles.

-Stephanie Mercier

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