Nanoparticles under the Microscope

Many consumer products contain titanium dioxide nanoparticles for their whitening properties—including toothpaste.

It's long been speculated that nanoparticles (particles as small as 1/1,000th of a human hair) found in more than 800 consumer products from socks to sunscreens, could pose a danger to the natural world. A new study being conducted at the University of New Haven aims to quantify just how seriously nanoparticles impact the environment. Specifically, UNH researchers are looking at the effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles on marine ecosystems. Titanium dioxide is used as a whitener in many products, from toothpaste to candy to cosmetics.

The researchers are looking at biofilms—the green slime covering the rocks and docks in the Long Island Sound in Connecticut. The Sound is the ultimate depository of these particles which are too tiny to be blocked by filtration systems. And as innocuous as the slime seems, it plays an important role from an environmental standpoint. These biofilms transform nitrogen and carbon for ocean creatures and clean waste water by eating harmful organic matter. Chemical engineering student Nicole Reardon and Assistant Professor Shannon Ciston, Ph.D. will be collecting biofilm samples and "dosing" the samples with a composite material made of carbon nanotubes and titanium dioxide nanoparticles. They"ll compare the dosed samples with untreated samples to begin to understand both the impacts of the nanoparticles and the implications for the marine environment at large.

SOURCES: E Magazine; University of New Haven.