UAlbany Launching NanoHealth And Safety Center

Gwyneth K. Shaw File Photo(NHI Nanoblog) Cementing an existing effort to probe the dangers associated with nanotechnology, the University at Albany’s sprawling College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering announced a $10 million partnership with industry to start the dedicated NanoHealth and Safety Center.

The university, which is part of the State University of New York system, has been building a nano empire just outside the state capital for a decade. In the process, it has attracted a host of companies—mostly semiconductor manufacturers and their suppliers—that do research and development and other work inside the giant complex.

Its partner in the safety center is SEMATECH, an international group of chipmakers, and a subsidiary, the International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative, or ISMI. The center begins with a $10 million guarantee over the next five years.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating super-small particles to make products with super properties. These particles are already in lots of items, from bike frames to sunscreens; many in the medical field believe its potential is almost limitless for treating disease from the inside.

But the very property that makes these products useful—their tiny size—might also make them dangerous, both in the short and long term.

Sara Brenner, a professor and assistant vice president for nano health initiatives at CNSE, said the new center “adds a lot of momentum to what we’ve been starting up and what we have going on here.”

“For health and safety research, dog-earing $10 million is a lot of money,” Brenner said. 

Thomas Begley, a toxicologist who’s also a CNSE vice president and professor, will head the new center. Brenner will chair a steering committee.

Brenner, pictured, said the new initiative “adds fuel to the fire” of projects already under way to analyze various nanomaterials, some of them in concert with manufacturers on- and off-site.

The center will focus on four areas: occupational health and safety; environmental health and safety; reducing the use of water, energy and chemicals in manufacturing; and “proactive collaborative research and development.”

“That is a huge spectrum,” Brenner said, adding that she’s fairly sure that combination makes the center unique in the still-young field of nano safety.

The center will help scientists develop a comprehensive understanding of what’s dangerous and what’s not about various nanomaterials. It’s important that everyone working in the nano safety field know what others are up to, Brenner said, and avoid having little bits of fragmented information scattered around the research landscape.

The same is true for manufacturers.

“As nano becomes more and more industrially ubiquitous, health and safety concerns are a common thread throughout all of the industries that are using engineered nanomaterials,” she said. “So, let’s be proactive, let’s really work together. I think it’s a model that other industries can really look up to.”

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