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NCER Grantee Research Project Results

The Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT)

EPA Grant Number: R830093
Center: Duke University — Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology
Center Director: Wiesner, Mark R.
Title: The Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT)
Investigators: Wiesner, Mark R.
Institution: Duke University , Carnegie Mellon University , Clemson University , Howard University , North Carolina State University , Purdue University - Main Campus , Rice University , Stanford University , University of Kentucky , Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
EPA Project Officer: Savage, Nora
Project Period: September 1, 2008 through September 1, 2013
Project Amount: $1,000,000
RFA: Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN) (in conjunction with NSF) (2007)
Research Category: Nanotechnology



EPA is co-funding the CEIN Centers through NSF. NSF Funding: $14,000,000 EPA Funding: $1,000,000

The Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) is dedicated to elucidating the relationship between a vast array of nanomaterials — from natural, to manufactured, to those produced incidentally by human activities — and their potential environmental exposure, biological effects, and ecological consequences.

Headquartered at Duke University, CEINT is a collaboration between Duke, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, and Virginia Tech and investigators from the University of Kentucky and Standford University. CEINT academic collaborations in the US also include on-going activities coordinated with faculty at Clemson, North Carolina State, Rice, and Purdue universities.

Created in 2008 with funding from the National Science Foundation and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the CEINT performs fundamental research on the behavior of nano-scale materials in ecosystems that will provide guidance in assessing existing and future concerns surrounding the environmental implications of nanomaterials.


The convergence of scientific disciplines at the quantum and molecular scales creates fertile terrain for a new model of interdisciplinary education. Nowhere is such a model more appropriate than in the environmental arena where discovery and problem-solving draw on principles from multiple disciplines including biology, chemistry, physics, and information science.

CEINT research is organized as team-based, interdisciplinary efforts that expand the academic community  of participating students to include the faculty, facilities, and student colleagues at all the participating universities.

Key elements of our educational program for university students include:

  • Curricular development that includes discovery-based laboratory activities for undergraduates, new common core courses for scientists and engineers based on the convergent interdisciplinarity that nanoscience inspires, and a graduate level textbook;
  • A CEINT-sponsored seminar series
  • REU experiences for undergraduates
  • International experiences and service learning opportunities through the Center’s research partners, such as the NSF-funded PIRE Partnership for Education and Research in Membrane Nanotechnologies (PERMEANT), Engineers Without Borders, and Engineering World Health;
  • CEIN annual technical workshop and conference to be organized with our sister center UC CEIN based at UCLA.
  • Undergraduate Research Assistantships/Fellowships that encourage students to participate in interdisciplinary research and motivate them to pursue advanced degrees and careers in research;
  • Graduate Fellowships for MS and PhD candidates will facilitate participation in multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research teams. Graduate Fellows will also be expected to complete an industrial internship, service learning project, or external laboratory rotation with collaborating faculty, international partners, end-user or practitioner. These experiences ensure Fellows' educational preparation for effective contributions, and extend CIENT influence into industry and public service;

CEINT educational outreach includes innovative curricula development G9-12, leveraging “Nano2Earth”, a program developed by Co-PI Hochella and colleagues at Virginia Tech, that uses nanoscience as a vehicle to transform curricula into an interdisciplinary approach to molecular biology, geochemistry, physics, chemistry, mathematics and ecology and encourages pre-college students to pursue studies in science and engineering.


CEINT research draws on expertise in five key areas: 1) environmental toxicology and ecosystem biology, 2) nanomaterial transport, transformation, and fate in the environment, 3) biogeochemistry of nanomaterials and incidental airborne particulates, 4) nanomaterial chemistry and fabrication and, 5) environmental risk assessment, modeling, and decision sciences. CEINT research is grouped into three interconnected Themes: 1) Exposure: Transport and Transformations in Laboratory Systems, 2) Cellular and Organismal Responses and, 3) Ecosystem Responses. This research is supported in turn by work in three crosscutting Cores: A) Manufactured Nanomaterials, B) Natural and Incidental Nanomaterials and, C) Modeling, Risk Assessment, and Societal Impacts.

Theme 1. Exposure: Transport and Transformations

In Theme 1, controlled laboratory experiments elucidate fundamental principles determining NP surface chemistry, transport and transformation. Work in Theme 1 provides the basis for understanding nanomaterial bioavailability, organismal responses, trophic transfer and impacts on ecosystem functions (Themes 2 and 3). Indeed, environmental and physiological transformations must be considered to perform reproducible, meaningful experiments assessing potential exposure and impacts of nanomaterials on organisms and ecosystems. The primary tasks in Theme 1 are to: 1) determine the characteristics of manufactured nanomaterials that may enter the environment, 2) connect the chemistry and size-effects of NPs to their aggregation state and movement in the environment and, 3) characterize biological and chemical transformations of such materials as a basis for understanding environmental persistence, transport and bioavailability.

Theme 2: Cellular and Organismal Responses.

Theme 2 research examines the impact of nanomaterials on organisms with respect to nanomaterials bioavailability, developmental impacts and toxicity. Bioavailability and toxicity testing serve a vital screening function, allowing us to examine a broad range of nanomaterials and build a database for calibrating and validating structure-activity models. Theme 2 studies mechanisms acting at the molecular scale that explain the observed responses that, taken in conjunction with activities in Theme 1, lay the groundwork for interpreting the ecosystem responses in Theme 3.

Theme 3: Ecosystem Functional Responses to Nanomaterials

Work in Theme 3 addresses the inherently complex nature of “real” ecosystems and the services they provide. We study nanomaterials in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems over a range of length-scales and complexity using macrocosms, microcosms, bench-scale experiements.  These ecosystems, that include aquatic flow-through and terrestrial microcosms are shared experimental facilities accessible by all members of the Center and include instrumentation for the analysis of biogeochemical transformations and quantification of inputs and outputs.

Core A: Manufactured Nanomaterials

Expertise in fabricating, characterizing and modifying NPs is a crosscutting activity that contributes to each of the Center’s three primary research themes. Some nanomaterials of current concern for environmental impact are available commercially and can be obtained readily in quantities required to perform experiments at lab-scale and in microcosms. Initial efforts in CEINT will focus on fullerenes (C60 and CNTs), metals (Fe, Au, Ag), metal oxides (TiO2 FeOx, SiO2, CeO2, ZnO [metal nanoparticles] ), metal sulfides and quantum dots. Materials made in our laboratories or commercially available materials are rigorously characterized and protocols for handling established before distribution for use by CEINT investigators. We will create a central repository of standard protocols and nanomaterial characteristics, accessible by website, and available to the nanoscience and engineering community. Work in our center extends beyond the menu of currently available nanomaterials to include new materials in new formats fabricated by CEINT nanochemists.

Core B: Natural and Incidental Nanomaterials in the Environment

The goals of Core B are to 1) determine characteristics of natural and incidental nanomaterials in the environment, 2) to identify the principal nanometer-scale structural and reactivity differences between natural and synthetic nanomaterials of the same chemical composition, and 3) to refine methods for measuring NPs in the environment. Using asymmetric flow field flow fractionation (AF4) and SEC with in-line DLS, QELS, and ICP-MS detectors in addition to analytical TEM, and x-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) spectroscopy the abundance of natural NPs in various environments are characterized and methods  developed to “trace” NPs in the environment to their most likely origin.

Core C: Modeling, Risk Assessment, and Societal Impacts

The information generated in our experimental efforts must be synthesized in a manner that facilitates interpretation among researchers and communication to students, and stakeholders. Risk assessment and bio-computational methods are ideal vehicles to accomplish this task. CEINT research priorities are informed by a rigorous assessment of risks and the associated study of the societal response to information on nanotechnologies, their benefits, and their risks. Building on strategies from traditional environmental risk analysis for identifying research objectives, bounding problems, articulating uncertainties, and defining endpoints for analysis, we  model complex and dynamic interactions of nanomaterials with the environment, and address life cycle considerations while reflecting the uncertainties in the current state of the science.

Expected Results:

In the future CEIN will collaborate with the NC Museum of Life and Science (NCMLS) in an educational effort spanning G8-12 to adults. Our partnership will leverage NCMLS’s activities in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net) program and create materials on environmental implications of nanotechnology.

Supplemental Keywords:

Health, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Health Risk Assessment, Risk Assessments, Environmental Microbiology, Biochemistry, Ecological Risk Assessment, Biology, Risk Assessment, chemical exposure, biological pathways, environmental risks, nanotechnology, nanomaterials, biogeochemistry, nanoparticle toxicity, exposure assessment, human health risk

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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