Nanoparticles are playing an important role in many existing and emerging technologies. Some examples include new medical diagnostics and targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases, fuel cells and advanced batteries for hybrid/electric vehicles, and new generations of solar cells that have the potential to provide us with free energy from the sun. A key element of all of these emerging technologies is the use of nanoparticles – finely divided matter, divided into tiny particles only a few billionths of a meter in size. In many applications nanoparticles are used because they provide a very high surface area for a given amount of material, thereby making more effective use of precious elements. In other applications nanomaterials may exhibit unique properties that are a consequence of their small size, containing anywhere from 10 to 10,000 atoms. While nanoparticles have a great potential to improve our society, relatively little is yet known about how nanoparticles interact with organisms, and how the unintentional release of nanoparticles from consumer or industrial products might impact the environment.
The goal of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology is to develop and utilize a molecular-level understanding of nanomaterial-biological interactions to enable development of sustainable, societally beneficial nanotechnologies. In effect, we aim to understand the molecular-level chemical and physical principles that govern how nanoparticles interact with living systems, in order to provide the scientific foundations that are needed to ensure that continued developments in nanotechnology can take place with the minimal environmental footprint and maximum benefit to society. The CSN is not a physical center but is instead a focal point for collaboration that links the complementary expertise of researchers at 12 different institutions to achieve what none of us could do individually. We co-advise graduate students and meet frequently in cyber-space, taking advantage of the latest in web-enabled communications to achieve a high level of interaction. Funding for the CSN comes from the National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry through the Centers for Chemical Innovation Program.