Extra Credit: Greener Nanoscience by Christina Cheng

Last week, I attended a special lecture on greener nanotechnology by Jim Hutchinson, who is currently a professor at the University of Oregon.  Since his lecture already started when I got there, it took me a while to tune in to what he was discussing.  It was not long before I realized that it would be a bit difficult to understand every single aspect of his lecture unless I was also a chemist, since much of it focused on advance organic chemistry.  Nevertheless, I am still interested in the environmentally-friendly aspect of his work in making chemistry and nanotechnology “greener.”

            As a chemist and nanoscientist, Hutchinson first discussed how the problem of pollution and waste caused by modern day technology is becoming more and more severe.  During the production of nanoparticles, the waste that comes along with it can be 6000 to 15000 times that of the product.  Not only does this add to the list of environmental issues in the world today, but it may also lead to unknown health risks.  For instance, many industries have incorporated silver nanoparticles in fabric since these particles have antibacterial effects.  However, a drawback of adding these nanoparticles is that they are often washed off when the fabrics, like clothes, are washed.  If these particles really prove to be hazardous, then it may lead to serious public health problems.  In fact, Hutchinson mentioned that one of the greatest problems with nanotechnology is that the field is so fresh and new that many of the hazards caused by the use of nanoparticles in research or in industry still remains unknown.  As a result, many people have protested against the use of nanotechnology.  These people, named “hippies” by Hutchinson, have opposed nanotechnology because all they saw was a path to more waste and hazards.  Nevertheless, as Hutchinson described, to deviate from the field of nanotechnology just because of ecological and health problems may be too disappointing, for that nanotechnology holds many possibilities for the future.  Hence, to overcome these consequences, Hutchinson proposed his methods for “greener chemistry” and “greener nanotechnology”.

            One of the green methods that Hutchinson discussed was purifying nanoparticles by diafiltration.  I could not follow through with how the entire process of diafiltration works, but it basically consists of a membrane that filters out impurities by being permeable only to small nanoparticles.  Additional methods, like dialysis and centrifugation, have also been effective methods that help purify nanoparticles.  Toward the end of his presentation, Hutchinson mentioned some of the nanoscience research groups that he was associated with, including ONAMI and CAMCOR.  Overall, I thought his lecture was quite interesting, and I really appreciated his efforts toward greener science in general.  I agree with him that it is too much of a sacrifice to not research more about nanotechnology just because of environmental problems, so it is essential that we continue to search for more ways to solve the possible issues that are caused by modern day research.  Hopefully, one day, all that comes with technology will be “green.”

- Christina Cheng

One Response to “Extra Credit: Greener Nanoscience by Christina Cheng”

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