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Synthetic Nanomaterials – Technology Advancers or Environmental Adversaries

Nanotechnology has distinguished itself as the emerging field in science that will broaden the range of research and advance technology.  Nanoparticles, which are particles that are between 1 TEleto 100 nanometers, are used in nanotechnology due their unique properties and broad range of possible applications.  Their small size and large surface area has the potential to produce quantum effects, which possess optical characteristics that are desirable in biomedical and electronic applications.  Among the nanoparticles, semiconductor quantum dots have been drawing wide spread interest, however it is known that quantum dots that contain heavy metals, such as cadmium, could be toxic in high concentrations.

I am a rising junior at Chaminade University of Honolulu, and currently studying the parameters that control the chemical stability of luminescent semiconductor quantum dots under different environmental conditions, as they interact with living organisms.  I am part of the Rosenzweig lab that is a part of the NSF Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN), which aims to understand the interactions between engineered nanomaterials and model membranes, and living organisms in order to redesign and produce nanomaterials, which Globsmaintain high functionality while having a minimal impact on the environment and human health.  Melissa, a graduate student, and I have been attaching specific molecules to the surface of the quantum dots and testing them in different environmental conditions to determine if it will improve the chemical stability.  This knowledge will help us better regulate the levels of toxicity of cadmium based quantum dots as we expose them to zebrafish embryos and monitor their development.  The pictures show zebrafish embryos injected with cadmium based quantum dots, and the possible dramatic implications of nanotoxicity that we are attempting to avoid with our research.