Tag Archives: nanoinformatics

Nanotechnology takes the big data dive

Duke University’s (North Carolina, US) Center for Environmental Implications of Nano Technology (CEINT) is back in the news. An August 18, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now  highlights two new projects intended to launch the field of nanoinformatics,

In two new studies, researchers from across the country spearheaded by Duke University faculty have begun to design the framework on which to build the emerging field of nanoinformatics.

An August 18, 2015 Duke University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the notion of nanoinformatics and how Duke is playing a key role in establishing this field,

Nanoinformatics is, as the name implies, the combination of nanoscale research and informatics. It attempts to determine which information is relevant to the field and then develop effective ways to collect, validate, store, share, analyze, model and apply that information — with the ultimate goal of helping scientists gain new insights into human health, the environment and more.

In the first paper, published on August 10, 2015, in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology, researchers begin the conversation of how to standardize the way nanotechnology data are curated.

Because the field is young and yet extremely diverse, data are collected and reported in different ways in different studies, making it difficult to compare apples to apples. Silver nanoparticles in a Florida swamp could behave entirely differently if studied in the Amazon River. And even if two studies are both looking at their effects in humans, slight variations like body temperature, blood pH levels or nanoparticles only a few nanometers larger can give different results. For future studies to combine multiple datasets to explore more complex questions, researchers must agree on what they need to know when curating nanomaterial data.

“We chose curation as the focus of this first paper because there are so many disparate efforts that are all over the road in terms of their missions, and the only thing they all have in common is that somehow they have to enter data into their resources,” said Christine Hendren, a research scientist at Duke and executive director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). “So we chose that as the kernel of this effort to be as broad as possible in defining a baseline for the nanoinformatics community.”

The paper is the first in a series of six that will explore what people mean — their vocabulary, definitions, assumptions, research environments, etc. — when they talk about gathering data on nanomaterials in digital form. And to get everyone on the same page, the researchers are seeking input from all stakeholders, including those conducting basic research, studying environmental implications, harnessing nanomaterial properties for applications, developing products and writing government regulations.

The daunting task is being undertaken by the Nanomaterial Data Curation Initiative (NDCI), a project of the National Cancer Informatics Nanotechnology Working Group (NCIP NanoWG) lead by a diverse team of nanomaterial data stakeholders. If successful, not only will these disparate interests be able to combine their data, the project will highlight what data are missing and help drive the research priorities of the field.

In the second paper, published on July 16, 2015, in Science of The Total Environment, Hendren and her colleagues at CEINT propose a new, standardized way of studying the properties of nanomaterials.

“If we’re going to move the field forward, we have to be able to agree on what measurements are going to be useful, which systems they should be measured in and what data gets reported, so that we can make comparisons,” said Hendren.

The proposed strategy uses functional assays — relatively simple tests carried out in standardized, well-described environments — to measure nanomaterial behavior in actual systems.

For some time, the nanomaterial research community has been trying to use measured nanomaterial properties to predict outcomes. For example, what size and composition of a nanoparticle is most likely to cause cancer? The problem, argues Mark Wiesner, director of CEINT, is that this question is far too complex to answer.

“Environmental researchers use a parameter called biological oxygen demand to predict how much oxygen a body of water needs to support its ecosystem,” explains Wiesner. “What we’re basically trying to do with nanomaterials is the equivalent of trying to predict the oxygen level in a lake by taking an inventory of every living organism, mathematically map all of their living mechanisms and interactions, add up all of the oxygen each would take, and use that number as an estimate. But that’s obviously ridiculous and impossible. So instead, you take a jar of water, shake it up, see how much oxygen is taken and extrapolate that. Our functional assay paper is saying do that for nanomaterials.”

The paper makes suggestions as to what nanomaterials’ “jar of water” should be. It identifies what parameters should be noted when studying a specific environmental system, like digestive fluids or wastewater, so that they can be compared down the road.

It also suggests two meaningful processes for nanoparticles that should be measured by functional assays: attachment efficiency (does it stick to surfaces or not) and dissolution rate (does it release ions).

In describing how a nanoinformatics approach informs the implementation of a functional assay testing strategy, Hendren said “We’re trying to anticipate what we want to ask the data down the road. If we’re banking all of this comparable data while doing our near-term research projects, we should eventually be able to support more mechanistic investigations to make predictions about how untested nanomaterials will behave in a given scenario.”

Here are links to and citations for the papers,

The Nanomaterial Data Curation Initiative: A collaborative approach to assessing, evaluating, and advancing the state of the field by Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Christina M. Powers, Mark D. Hoover, and Stacey L. Harper.  Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2015, 6, 1752–1762. doi:10.3762/bjnano.6.179 Published 18 Aug 2015

A functional assay-based strategy for nanomaterial risk forecasting by Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Gregory V. Lowry, Jason M. Unrine, and Mark R. Wiesner. Science of The Total Environment Available online 16 July 2015 In Press, Corrected Proof  DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.100.

The first paper listed in open access while the second paper is behind a paywall.

I’m (mostly) giving the final comments to Dexter Johnson who in an August 20, 2015 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) had this to say (Note: Links have been removed),

It can take days for a supercomputer to unravel all the data contained in a single human genome. So it wasn’t long after mapping the first human genome that researchers coined the umbrella term “bioinformatics” in which a variety of methods and computer technologies are used for organizing and analyzing all that data.

Now teams of researchers led by scientists at Duke University believe that the field of nanotechnology has reached a critical mass of data and that a new field needs to be established, dubbed “nanoinformatics.

While being able to better organize and analyze data to study the impact of nanomaterials on the environment should benefit the field, what seems to remain a more pressing concern is having the tools for measuring nanomaterials outside of a vacuum and in water and air environments.”

I gather Christine Hendren has succeeded Mark Weisner as CEINT’s executive director.

Inaugural workshop using *nanomaterials for environmental remediation being held in Louisiana

Participants at the Nano-4-Rem (nanomaterials for environmental remediation) aNsseRS workshop will be visiting the Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond in early June 2013. From the Nov.  6, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

An inaugural workshop on the safe use of nanomaterials in environmental remediation will be held at Southeastern Louisiana University June 5-7, 2013.

With increased use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in the cleanup of hazardous sites, there is now a growing body of evidence that exposure to these materials may have adverse health effects, said conference organizer Ephraim Massawe, assistant professor of occupational safety, health and environment.

“The applications and results of nano-enabled strategies and methods for environmental remediation are increasingly promising,” Massawe said. “The challenge is ensuring that such applications are both safe and sustainable.”

There is more information on Southeastern Louisiana University’s Nano-4-Rem aNsseRS webpage,

Background: Groundwater or soil contamination is present at most Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action sites. Traditional technologies, such as pump-and-treat (P&T) and permeable reactive barriers (PRBs), have been used for decades to remediate such sites. In recent years, remediation strategies involving engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) such as zero-valent iron and titanium dioxide have been demonstrated as viable time-saving and cost-effective alternatives to traditional remediation. In addition, advances in nanotechnology-enabled assessment and monitoring methods such as nano-sensors may support more extensive, reliable, and cost effective assessment and management of remediation activities.

At the same time that applications of nano-enabled strategies and methods for environmental remediation are increasingly promising, there is a growing body of evidence linking exposure to certain nanomaterials with adverse health effects in animals at the laboratory scale. The challenge is to ensure that such applications are both safe and sustainable. …

Workshop Objectives: This is the first national workshop that provides an opportunity for representatives from the environmental remediation community, industry, academia, and government to:

  • Share their perspectives, pose questions, and develop ideas for design of good guidelines, selection criteria, and work practices to support safe and sustainable nano-enabled environmental remediation;
  • Become acquainted with other U.S. nanotechnology stakeholders, including vendors, transporters, and contractors of the remediation sites and communities; and
  • Share case studies of nano-enhanced clean up technologies, including selection criteria for alternative remediation strategies and methods, job planning, job tasks, and nanomaterial handling practices.

Furthermore, in the context of nanoinformatics (Nanoinformatics 2020 Roadmap), the workshop will present:

  • Occupational and environmental regulatory issues as they relate to remediation, synthesis and characterization, and application of nanoinformatics for safe and sustainable use of nanomaterials during remediation;
  • Fate and transport of nanomaterials during and after remediation;
  • Risks, including contributions from both toxicological properties of nanomaterials (hazard) and potentials for occupational and environmental exposure, where hazard x exposure = risk;
  • Results of the recent nanoinformatics survey of state agencies and programs described on the workshop website; and
  • Opportunities for developing and sustaining continuing advances and collaborations.

Call for Presenters and Deadlines: Participants are invited from the industry; site contractors, nanomaterial vendors; laboratories that synthesize and characterize ENPs for environmental remediation; regulatory authorities (local, state, and federal government) and academia (faculty and students). Presenters should submit titles and abstracts for podium or poster presentations by December 14, 2012. The workshop or program schedule will be finalized by February 20, 2013. Event date: June 5-7, 2013. Students are encouraged to submit proposals for podium or poster presentations. “Best student” poster and presentation awards will be given. Information about this workshop can also be found at http://cluin.org [a US Environmental Protection Agency ‘office’].

The Nov. 7, 2012 news release from Southeastern Louisiana University which originated the news item (Nanowerk seems to have posted the item before the release was posted on the university website) provides more detail,

The event, “Nano-4-Rem-Anssers 2013: Applications of Nanotechnology for Safe and Sustainable Environmental Remediations,” is one of the first of its kind in the Southeast which has been designed to provide an opportunity for involved parties to share perspectives, pose questions and develop ideas for generating solid guidelines for best work practices that support safe and sustainable nano-enabled environmental remediation.

Southeastern is sponsoring the event with other agencies and institutions, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and in conjunction with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO).

The program will include case studies of nano-enhanced clean up technologies, including selection criteria for alternative remediation strategies and methods, job planning and tasks, and safe material handling practices. Other issues to be discussed are updates of toxicity studies, fate and transport of nanoparticules [the French word for nanoparticles is nanoparticules ..  this seems an unusual choice for a news release from a US university but Louisiana was French at one time, so perhaps there’s a desire to retain a linguistic link?]  in soils and groundwater, and nanoinformatics.

I have written about nanoremediation before. Here are a few of the latest,

Nanoremediation techniques from Iran and from South Carolina

Canadian soil remediation expert in Australia

Phyto and nano soil remediation (part 2: nano)

* ‘nanotechnolmaterials corrected to ‘nanomaterials’ on Sept. 23, 2013.