Omowunmi Sadik, Professor of Chemistry and Director of Center for Advanced Sensors and Environmental Systems at the Binghamton University, State University of New York, is developing sensors that will be used for the detection and identification of engineered nanoparticles.
Sadik’s research work will enhance the understanding of dangers caused by engineered nanoparticles when they are released in the environment and undergo transformation.
According to Sadik, society will have to evaluate undesirable negative aspects of science and technology, besides their positive aspects. She feels that chemists need to evaluate the impact of nanoparticles on environment and human health and not merely focus on the creation of nanoparticles.
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies had conducted a survey which discovered that nanoparticles measuring less than 100 nm are utilized in more than 1,000 consumer gadgets that range from food to cars. For example, silver nanoparticles are utilized in tableware and cookware as coating materials. Silver nanoparticles, by virtue of their antibacterial properties, are also used for detergents and liquids used in the laundry. Silver nanoparticles are also infused into socks for reducing odor and bacteria. But Sadik revealed that when users wash these socks the nanoparticles will contaminate their water.
The way engineered and other nanoparticles interact with air, soil, and water system is not adequately understood. Some of these nanoparticles possess the same properties as asbestos while some are of toxic nature. Monitoring these nanoparticles is difficult, though not impossible. Existing techniques to monitor nanoparticles depend on the use of large microscopes for their identification. However, these microscopes do not provide information related to the toxicity of nanoparticles and are not handy to carry from one place to another.
The Environmental Protection Agency has provided funds to Sadik and Howard Wang, her Binghampton colleague for designing, developing, and testing sensors that would monitor engineered nanoparticles and cell particles created naturally.
Sadik’s lab has developed a membrane to capture a single nanoparticle already. The membrane can also help to generate signals. The membrane uses cyclodextrin whose molecular structure is like a miniature cup. Sadik explained that the membrane can be utilized for both sensing and cleanup purposes.
Such findings have reinforced the belief of Sadik that nanotechnology will be helpful for the remediation of pollutants in the environment, and she also feels that green nanotechnology can bring down the use of solvents and reduce wastage in manufacturing methods in the future. For example, nanoparticles were used by Sadik to convert a carcinogen called Chromium 6 into Chromium 3, which is harmless. Sadik added that the conversion has a positive aspect.
Sadik elaborated further that her research group is focusing on the development of nanomaterials and at the same time avoid undesirable consequences due to these developments. Sadik explained that her group wanted to continue with these developments, but with responsibility.