recent paper by Kathleen Eggleson, a research scientist in the Center
for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano) at the University of Notre
Dame, provides an example of a nanotechnology-related safety and ethics
problem that is unfolding right now.
The world of nanotechnology, which involves science and engineering down at billionths-of-a-meter scales, might seem remote.
like most new advances, the application of that technology to everyday
experience has implications that can affect people in real ways.
If not anticipated, discussed or planned for, some of those implications might even be harmful.
problem that Eggleson describes is that hospital-acquired infections
are a persistent, costly, and sometimes fatal issue. A patient goes in
for one condition, say an injury, but ends up being infected by a
microorganism picked up in the hospital itself. That microorganism might
even have developed a resistance to conventional drug treatments.
solution is that engineers are developing new and innovative ways of
coating medical materials with nano-sized particles of silver, an
element that has long been known for its antimicrobial properties. These
particles are being applied to hard surfaces, like bedrails and
doorknobs, and to fabrics, such as sheets, gowns, and curtains, by a
growing number of medical supply companies. And these new materials are
coatings have made life-saving differences to the properties of typical
hospital items,” says Eggleson. “Just this last December, a textile
made by a Swiss company was the first nano-scale material approved as a
pesticide by the EPA.”
possible new danger is that the vast majority of bacteria and other
microorganisms are actually neutral, or even beneficial, to human life
and a healthy environment. For example, some bacteria are needed to
maintain appropriate levels of nitrogen in the air, and others, living
inside the human body, are critical to both vitamin synthesis and
overuse of nanosilver products, especially outside of clinical
environments, could pose a danger to needed microorganisms, and enable
resistant strains to flourish.
“Under most conditions, the preservation of microbial biodiversity is a benefit,” explains Eggleson.
fact, those who would use these potent new antimicrobial technologies
for frivolous uses, such as for odor control, work directly against the
U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative’s goal of responsible
Eggleson came to the Center for Nano Science and Technology last year to study and prompt discussion of problems like these.
is expanding its scope into studies of the societal impact of
nanotechnology,” explains Wolfgang Porod, Frank M. Freimann Professor of
Electrical Engineering at Notre Dame and director of the center. “This
is the background for bringing Kathy on board.”
facilitate such discussion, Eggleson initiated a monthly meeting group,
called the Nano Impacts Intellectual Community, which brings together
Notre Dame researchers from across campus, visiting scholars and authors
from outside the university, and leaders from the local area to probe
nanotechnology topics in depth.
group has tackled such issues as the ethics of nanomedicine, the
commercialization of nanotechnology products, and the interdisciplinary
nature of nanotechnology research.
appreciate being a part of this on-going conversation,” says Glenn
Killoren, an attorney at Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a regular Nano
Impacts attendee. “Nanotechnology isn’t just something that happens in
research labs anymore. It’s a small but growing part of our lives, and
both scientists and non-scientists need to think about its effects.”
and NDnano faculty have also met with a number of local middle school
and high school teachers who feature nanotechnology in their lesson
plans. Moreover, the center supports Ivy Tech Community College-North
Central’s program to train aspiring nanotechnology technicians.
“We try to do as much as we can to engage the community this exciting area,” says Eggleson.
Source: University of Notre Dame