University of California – Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC-CEIN)

EPA Grant Number: R830117
Center: University of California — Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC—CEIN)
Center Director: Nel, Andre E.
Title: University of California – Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC-CEIN)
Investigators: Nel, Andre E.
Institution: University of California - Los Angeles
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: September 1, 2008 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $4,000,000
RFA: Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN) (in conjunction with NSF) (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Nanotechnology , Safer Chemicals


EPA is co-funding the CEIN Centers through NSF. NSF Funding: $24,000,000 EPA Funding: $4,000,000

Vision and overall description of the Center:

Establishing a predictive science is a timely approach for nanotechnology-based enterprises wishing to avoid the problems faced by the chemical industry, where only a few hundred of the ca. 50,000 industrial chemicals have undergone toxicity testing, making it very challenging to control their toxicological impact in the environment. There is also growing recognition in Europe and Asia that a paradigm shift in toxicology is required to deal with anthropogenic activity. The UC-CEIN proposes to conduct predictive toxicological science for engineered nanomaterials (NMs) through the founding of the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN) at UC Los Angeles (UCLA) in partnership with UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), UC Davis (UCD), UC Riverside (UCR), Columbia University (New York), University of Texas (El Paso, TX), Nanyang Technological University (NTU, Singapore), the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), the University of Bremen (Germany), University College Dublin (UCD, Ireland), and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV, Spain). This Center unites a highly integrated, multidisciplinary, synergistic team with the skill set to solve the complexities of environmental science, eco-toxicity, materials science, nanotechnology, biological mechanisms of injury, and the environmental fate and transport of NMs.

The goal of the Center is to develop a broad-based model of predictive toxicology premised on quantitative structure–activity relationships (QSARs) and NM injury paradigms at the biological level. This predictive scientific model will consider: (i) the NMs most likely to come into contact with the environment; (ii) their distribution in the environment; (iii) representative environmental life forms serving as early sentinels to monitor the spread and bio-accumulation of hazardous NMs; (iv) biological screening assays allowing QSARs to be developed based on the bio-physicochemical properties of NMs; (v) High throughput screening (HTS) of a combinatorial NM library; and (vi) a self-learning computational system providing a framework for predictive risk analysis. These research activities will be combined with educational programs informing the public, future generations of scientists, public agencies, and industrial stakeholders of the importance of safe implementation of nanotechnology in the environment. The overall impact will be to reduce uncertainty about the possible consequences of NMs in the environment, while at the same time providing guidelines for their safe design to prevent environmental hazards.

Intellectual Merit: The proposed activity integrates and advances knowledge from multiple disciplines required to understand the complex intersection of nanotechnology with the environment. The Center will unite recognized experts in the fields of engineering, chemistry, physics, materials science, ecology, cell biology, marine biology, bacteriology, particle and chemical toxicology, computer modeling, HTS, and risk prediction to establish the foundation of a new scientific discipline: Environmental Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology. This team combines resources of several major US research universities and national laboratories—including the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS), and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)—with those of international collaborators and industrial partners in the USA, Asia, and Europe. Our predictive toxicological paradigm and structure-activity based analysis of the bio-physicochemical properties of NMs also provides the logical entrée into the knowledge generation, self-learning, and risk predictions that are required for safe implementation of nanotechnology in the environment. We envisage that this predictive toxicological science will grow in step with expansion of the nanotechnology industry, thereby making it possible to act preemptively, rather than retroactively.

Organization of the Center, including institutional settings and major participants: The major base of operations will be the CNSI at UCLA from where the CEIN Director Nel (UCLA) will be assisted by a Chief Operating Officer, a Financial/Budget Coordinator, and an Administrative Assistant. Keller (UCSB) will serve as Associate Director, maintaining close working relationships with Nel, the CNSI, and the Bren School of the Environment at UCSB. Nel and Keller will be assisted by three additional co-PIs (Godwin, Cohen, Nisbet) on the Research Executive Committee (REC) and seven integrated research group (IRG) leaders (Hoek, Holden, Lenihan, Keller, Bradley, Cohen, Harthorn) overseeing the research projects. Godwin will be the leader for education, outreach, and human resource development, with input from a Student Advisory Committee (SAC). The other campuses and institutions involved in research and knowledge generation (see below) will be integrated in the Center’s activities through lead investigators coordinating their research with the Executive Committee (EC). There will be an External Advisory Board comprising scientists from academia, industry, and members of appropriate government sectors.

The individual complexities of environmental science, eco-toxicity, materials science, and nanotechnology call for an integrated, multidisciplinary, and synergetic Research Center that utilizes a knowledge base and skill set of great breadth and scale. Such a group, drawing on expertise in engineering (Hoek, Holden, Keller, Geyer, Cohen), chemistry/materials science (Zink, Mädler, Godwin), physics, biology, toxicology (Nel, Holden, Eckert), and risk management (Froines, Cohen), has been established in the nanotoxicology program at UCLA and UCSB. The strength of this core UC group—studying the impact of nanotechnology on the environment—will be enhanced through recruitment of outstanding UC faculty in eco-toxicology (Lenihan, Nisbet, Schimel), marine biology (Cherr, Lenihan), chemical and environmental engineering (Walker, Wang), bioengineering and materials science (Stucky), HTS systems (Bradley, Damoiseaux), chemistry (Yaghi, Kaner), and pattern recognition, transport modeling, and environmental multimedia analysis (Cohen).

Several outstanding national and international collaborators have also been brought in to strengthen this core group and to establish a diverse worldwide network of cooperative scientists. Harthorn (UCSB) is the PI of the NSEC, CNS, which collaborates with CNSI-UCSB, a member of the NNIN. Schimel is a participant in both the UCSB Santa Barbara Coastal and Toolik Lake Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) programs. Links to national research groups include collaboration with Somasundaran in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University (New York), Freudenberg and Harthorn (NSEC Center), Bucholz, Knezovich, and Weber (LLNL), Bertozzi and Milliron from the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and Brinker (SNL).

The CEIN’s international partnerships will represent a truly global endeavor spanning from North America to the Pacific Rim, the UK, and Continental Europe, including collaborations with Boey at the School of Materials Science & Engineering (NTU, Singapore), Mädler from the Department of Process Engineering, University of Bremen (Germany), Giralt from the Department of Chemical Engineering (URV, Spain), CNS collaborators in Europe and Canada (Pidgeon, Satterfield), and Dawson from UCD (Ireland).


Activities in research, education, and their integration: Our research goal of developing a predictive risk model for NM impact on the environment will be executed through seven IRGs.Todevelop an understanding of theQSARs, IRG 1 will establish a physical library of standard reference NMs representing the major classes of commercial products; it will also use advanced NM design and synthesis methods to develop a combinatorial library that enables our study of the interfacial properties responsible for biocompatible and bio-adverse responses. These NMs will be characterized to determine the physicochemical properties (IRG 1) that are associated with cellular, tissue, and systemic injury in aquatic and terrestrial life forms (IRG 2). These ecological life forms will be chosen to represent a hierarchy of trophic levels in the environment and will be used for assessment of NM uptake, clearance, bioaccumulation, and dose–response relationships (IRG 3). The engineered NPs will be compared with naturally existing congeners to determine their transport, aggregation, stability, and fate in soil, water, and air (IRG 4). We propose to use the key interfacial properties governing interactions at the nano–bio interface (size, surface area, wettability, aggregation, dispersibility, charge) to develop HTS approaches (IRGs 1 & 5) allowing contemporaneous testing of batches of NMs in representative cellular systems (e.g., bacteria, yeasts) for hazard prediction according to a variety of cellular endpoints (oxidant stress response, proliferation, ATP production, mitochondrial dysfunction, apoptosis) To train novel cognitive neural networks for risk prediction, the physicochemical, biological, toxicological, exposure, and dose–response data will ultimately be integrated into a comprehensive environmental multimedia assessment model for NPs and NP-bound toxicants (IRG 6). This computational risk model will interface with the CNS and NCEAS at UCSB to responsibly convey the risks to industry, the public, and regulatory agencies, and to set environmental safety guidelines (IRG 7).
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A major goal of the CEIN will be to train the next generation of nano-scale scientists, engineers, and regulators to anticipate and mitigate potential future environmental hazards associated with nanotechnology. The UC Nanotoxicology Research and Training Program at UCLA and UCSB has established a nanotoxicology capstone course, seminar series, and workshops that will serve as the cornerstone for developing additional high-impact educational programs focusing on nanotechnology and the environment. These educational programs will broaden the knowledge base of the environmental implications of nanotechnology through academic coursework, world-class research, training courses for industrial practitioners, and a journalist–scientist communication program. We will expand representation and access to this knowledge base through an internship program directed at California community colleges serving underrepresented groups. The creation of a comprehensive computational risk model will allow powerful risk predictions to be made for and by the academic community, industry, the public, and regulating agencies. Our partner centers (CNS, CSNI, NCEAS) will be powerful portals for the dissemination and integration of knowledge to the scientific, educational, and industrial communities.

Collaborative activities with industry and other sectors. Major corporate sponsors of the CNSI at UCLA and UCSB and additional industries with ties to institutions and individual investigators have expressed strong interest in participating in the workshop and knowledge generating capabilities of the CEIN. The CEIN will collaborate directly with the Department of Toxic Substances, California (DTSC), the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (California), the US EPA’s ToxCast program, the Molecular Foundry (LBNL), LLNL, and SNL.

Management plan. The Director (Nel) and Associate Director (Keller) will provide strategic leadership and complimentary expertise to ensure the Center’s vision and mission. Godwin, formerly Director for Education at the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at Northwestern University, will be the Education/Outreach Leader. Godwin will establish a Student Advisory Board to evaluate teaching impact. The Center’s Executive Committee—comprising the Director, Associate Director, IRG Leaders, and the Education/Outreach Leader—will oversee integration and coordination across research and education, resource allocation, and outreach to the scientific, industrial, and wider community. An External Advisory Board—comprising scientists, technologists, industry leaders, and members of appropriate government sectors and the public—will advise the Director and EC with respect to strategic directions and management policies. The Center will also take advantage of a close association with NCEAS, conveniently located near UCSB and UCLA, to proactively strengthen the management structure and communication processes.

Supplemental Keywords:

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

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final