Tag Archives: safety

Enriching food with nanoparticles?

There’s a team of Swiss researchers addressing the problem of anemia (iron deficiency) and zinc deficiency by adding iron and/or zinc nanoparticles to food. According to the article by Eric Bland on the Discovery News website,

“Iron and zinc deficiencies are common around the world,” said Michael Zimmermann, a scientist at ETH Zurich and a co-author of a recent Nature Nanotechnology article. “Yet many compounds used in food fortification are either absorbed poorly or, when they have high absorption, change the color, taste and smell of food.”

Anemia, or a lack of iron, affects more than 2 billion people worldwide and is arguably the most widespread micronutrient deficiency. Without enough iron the the body can become lethargic and cognitively impaired. For some pregnant women, the lack of iron can kill them during childbirth. Some economists have even speculated that a nation’s gross domestic product is depressed because of anemic and lethargic workers, said Zimmermann.

Lack of zinc impairs a person’s normal growth and can lead to diarrhea, pneumonia, anorexia and other conditions.

Standard ways of fortifying food with zinc and/or iron present various challenges including this one as noted by Zimmermann only a limited amount of iron can be added as it affects the food’s taste, smell, and/or appearance (this and other challenges are detailed in Bland’s article). So scientists continue to work on better ways to fortify food so that more people on the planet can benefit. The Swiss team’s approach,

The new research solves this conundrum. To create the nanoparticles the Swiss scientists dissolved iron in water, then sprayed the solution over very hot fire. The intense heat quickly evaporates the water, leaving tiny iron or zinc crystals, each one about 10 nanometers across. Those nanocrystals then clump together.

The large clumps do not change the taste, color or smell of food. When the clumps drop into the stomach acid, however, they break apart into tiny particles, which are easily absorbed by the body.

These zinc and/or iron nanoparticles, which do not affect the food’s taste, smell, or appearance, have been tested on rats. (I wonder how they figured out that taste isn’t affected since there haven’t been any human clinical trials.) More research needs to be done before humans get a chance to try these nanotechnology-enabled foods but this does seem promising.

By the way, the rats were fed chocolate milk and banana smoothies.

There’s gold in them thar nano hills; study on nanotechnology practices; robot actresses in Korea

The World Gold Council has released a paper, Gold for Good: gold and nanotechnology in the age of innovation which highlights the many benefits of using gold nanoparticles in areas ranging from medicine to the environment. From the news item on Azonano,

The report, which was produced in conjunction with Cientifica Ltd, the world’s leading source of global business and investor intelligence about nanotechnologies, demonstrates how gold nanoparticles offer the potential to overcome many of the serious issues facing mankind over the coming decades.

Gold nanoparticles exhibit a variety of unique properties which, when harnessed and manipulated effectively, lead to materials whose uses are both far-ranging in their potential and cost effective. This report explores the many different applications that are being developed across the fields of health, environment and technology.

I found the report a useful (and rosy) overview of gold nanoparticles, their various benefits, and their potential for business investors as to be expected when one of the report’s authors is Tim Harper of the TNT Blog and principal of Cientifica. The report can be found here.

Michael Berger over at Nanowerk has written up a spotlight feature on a study about safety practices in  nanotechnology laboratories that was published in Feb. 2010 in Nature Nanotechnology.  From Nanowerk,

Published in the February issue of Nature Nanotechnology (“Reported nanosafety practices in research laboratories worldwide”), Jesus Santamaria, who heads the Nanostructured Films and Particles (NFP) Group at the University of Zaragoza, and his team have conducted an online survey to identify what safety practices researchers are following in their own labs.

“The results of our survey indicate that environmental health and safety practice in many research laboratories worldwide is lacking in several important aspects, and several reasons may contribute to this” Santamaria tells Nanowerk. “Toxicity of nanomaterials is a complex subject because it depends on multiple factors including size, surface area, chemical composition, shape, aggregation, surface coating and solubility. Furthermore, most published research emphasizes acute toxicity and mortality, rather than chronic exposure and morbidity.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Maynard at 2020 Science has written up a pointed critique. From Andrew,

Out of all those researchers surveyed who thought the materials they were using might become airborne at some stage, 21% didn’t use any form of “special protection” and 30% didn’t use respiratory protection.  Yet there is no way of telling from the survey whether “special protection” (the authors’ terminology) was needed, or indeed whether any respiratory protection was needed.  A researcher handling small amounts of fumed silica for example – used as a food additive amongst other places – might well handle it using established lab safety procedures that are entirely adequate and don’t include the use of a respirator – in this survey they would be classed in the category of “most researchers” not using “suitabe personal and laboratory protection.”

Unfortunately the Nature Nanotechnology article is behind a paywall but it is worth looking at Andrew’s critique both for the insight it gives you into laboratory practices and for a better understanding of the problems posed by the questions in the survey. Properly framing questions and the answers respondents get to choose from is one of the most difficult aspects of creating a questionnaire.

Andrew never mentions it and I can’t get past the paywall to find out but the questionnaire (or instrument as it’s often called) should have been tested before it was used. I suspect it was not. That said, testing won’t necessarily identify all the problems once you start dealing with a larger sample but it should help.

I have a couple of other comments. I didn’t see any mention of demographic information. For example, are they more careful in smaller labs or does lab size make any difference in safety processes? Does age or experience as a researcher have an impact? Are chemists more careful than physicists? Are men more careful than women or vice versa?

My second comment has to do with self-selected respondents. Why did these people respond to a survey? Generally, if you are surveying people about an issue, the most likely to respond are the ones who feel most strongly about the issue and this can give you a false picture of the general population. In other words, your sample is not generalizable. I don’t think that’s necessarily the situation here but it is a factor that needs to be taken into account. I would expect most social scientists (I gather the Spanish team is not composed of social scientists) to use a number of instruments and not just a self-reporting survey although that may be the first step as more work is undertaken.

I should mention the GoodNanoGuide as sharing handling and safety practices are the reasons this site was developed by the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON). From their website,

The GoodNanoGuide is a collaboration platform designed to enhance the ability of experts to exchange ideas on how best to handle nanomaterials in an occupational setting.

Now for something completely different, Korean robot actresses. From the news item on physorg.com,

EveR-3 (Eve Robot 3) starred in various dramas last year including the government-funded “Dwarfs” which attracted a full house, said Lee Ho-Gil, of the state-run Korea Institute of Industrial Technology.

The lifelike EveR-3 is 157 centimetres (five feet, two inches) tall, can communicate in Korean and English, and can express a total of 16 facial expressions — without ever forgetting her lines. Lee acknowledged that robot actresses find it hard to express the full gamut of emotions and also tend to bump into props and fellow (human) actors. But he said a thespian android was useful in promoting the cutting-edge industry.

Here’s a shot of the robot actress as Snow White (from physorg.com where you can see a larger version if you wish),

Courtesy of the Korean Institute of Technology, Eve Robot 3 in costume for Robot Princess and 7 Dwarfs

That’s it.

New international nanotechnology safety study and a Canadian synchrotron conference

There’s a new report on nanotechnology safety studies, the ‘EMERGNANO report‘. The researchers surveyed environment, health, and safety studies internationally, determined which ones fit their criteria, and have  now provided an assessment of the findings. Short story: there are no conclusive findings which is troublesome given the number of nanomaterial-based products that are making their way into the international marketplace. Michael Berger on Nanowerk News offers an excellent assessment of the situation vis a vis technophobic and technophilic approaches to emerging technologies and their attendant safety issues,New technologies are always polarizing society – some only see the inherent dangers, others only see the opportunities. Since these two groups usually are the loudest, everybody else inbetween has a hard time to get their message across and with objective information and facts. Nanotechnologies are no different. The nay-sayers call for a total moratorium everytime scientific research with concerning conclusions is published while opportunistic hypsters are only interested in selling more products or reports and ridicule even the faintest objections and concerns as uninformed panicmongering.

For more, please go here. I notice that Andrew Maynard (mentioned frequently here due to his 2020 Science blog and his position as Chief Science Advisor for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies) is one of the authors.

There’s a nanotechnology-type conference being held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada this week (June 17 – 18, 2009). They have a big synchroton facility there and, I believe, it is the only such facility in Canada, which according to their video, is one of the most advanced such facilities in the world. The 12th annual meeting features a public lecture, ‘Science Fiction as a Mirror for Reality‘, by  Robert J. Sawyer, an internationally renowned Canadian science fiction author. For details about the conference,go here. For information about the synchroton in Saskatoon, go here. For information about Robert J. Sawyer, go here. (Media release noting the event can be found on Nanowerk News.)

Nano safety…it’s everywhere

Nature Nanotechnology just published (advance online edition) a commentary titled Nanotechnology: Learning from past mistakes. It’s the first time I’ve seen an article which advises humility as an important factor when developing new sciences and technologies.  The authors Stefan Foss Hansen and Anders Baun of the Technical University in Denmark, Andrew Maynard of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, and Joel Tickner at the University of Massachusetts are drawing on an earlier report by the European Environment Agency which examined 14 case studies where early warnings about a new technology were ignored and resulted in some serious health issues.  Foss, et al are comparing nanotechnology’s emergence to these earlier cases and the outcome is mixed ie, there’s some good and there’s some bad. Unfortunately, the full article is behind a paywall. There’s a bit more info. here at Science Daily or here at Phys.org.

Still on the safety train, there’s a study of Swiss consumers which suggests that they accept the idea of nanotechnology applications being used in food packaging. This seems unusual and I haven’t had time to track down the study but there’s a bit more about it here.

Nano on Mars and a nano safety talk in Vancouver

An atomic force microscope (AFM) on something called the Mars Lander (part of the Phoenix Mars mission) demonstrated full functionality on July 8,  2008. The AFM recorded a test grid as part of a calibration process and sent the image back to Earth proving it could function under the harsh conditions found on Mars. The image was 40 microns x 40 microns, “small enough to fit on an eyelash.” For more details, go here.

Nanotech BC is holding a breakfast meeting on July 23, 2008 featuring Dr. Kristen Kulinovsky from the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON). She will be focusing on their proposed nano safety practices wiki. I don’t know if they have that up and running yet and I’m guessing that she’s going to talk this up in the hope of getting people to participate.

Wednesday July 23, 2008 at the Listel Hotel, 1300 Robston St, 8 am to 10 am,  $25 reserved seat, $30 at the door.  More details and registration here.

Nano, wikis, and the sun

About a week or so ago, I read about a new nano wiki being proposed or developed by the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON). This wiki is  going to focus on international best practices for environmental health and safety vis a vis nanoparticles. I’d forgotten about it until this morning when I saw some comments about the wiki on an IEEE blog.  The writer also questions whether or not council truly is international. (You can go see the comments here.) It’s a bit of a puzzle trying to get representation that’s truly international.  For example, I’ve had a proposal accepted for a presentation at the Language and the Scientific Imagination  conference in Helsinki and I’ve noticed that most of the people presenting are from the UK, a few are from Australia, and then there are assorted single presenters (Belgium, Canada, Germany). I’m willing to bet the organizer worked really, really hard and that group is as diverse as she could manage.

IBM was busy announcing some sort of advance that could reduce the costs fro solar panels (more here). Don’t know why but it reminded me of IBM’s pr stunt last year where they reproduced a famous paining (17th century, I think) of the sun. I’m being a little facetious but it does seem as if IBM wants to brand the sun.

Oh, and the British Columbia Nanotechnology Alliance is putting on a golf tournament June 19, 2008. It’s a benefit for BC Technology Social Venture Partners. You can register and get more details about the golf tournament here and about the charitable society here.