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Airdate: Jun 09, 2016
Scientist: Deborah Berhanu

Nanotech - Worts Case Scenarios

Nanotech - Worts Case Scenarios
Could nanoparticles be toxic to humans and the environment?

Transcript:
Nanotech - Worst Case Scenarios

Ambience: Ocean
Berhanu: There's a concern on the potential toxicity of nanoparticles to humans, and there's also a concern on the impact that nanoparticles may have on the environment.

Nanoparticles, tiny bits of matter with unique properties, are finding their way into many household products and up to now, they're mostly unregulated. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Berhanu: We're actually looking into different scenarios of how nanoparticles could be toxic to humans or to the environment.

Deborah Berhanu is an assistant professor at the City University of NY in Kingsborough Community College.

Berhanu: A nanoparticle that is discarded in the sea will absorb organic molecules that are naturally present. These molecules are very complex and it is difficult to understand how natural organic matter interacts with nanoparticles. Does it destroy it? Does it preserve it? If it preserves it , what are the new properties this nanoparticle has?

For example zinc oxide nanoparticles are used for sunscreens. Now when we swim, we're actually discarding these nanoparticles in the sea or the lake that we're swimming in.
The nanoparticle then enters in contact with organic molecules that are already present in the water. The interaction will define what will be the new property of that nanoparticle. Understanding this also provides us with the possibility to design safe nano materials.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology and the National Science Foundation.