Posts Tagged ‘nanotube’
In an article a few weeks ago, I noted the way the synthetic particle cerium oxide had a tendency to stick around in incinerators, seeming indestructible. While worrying, this was not an immediate concern because cerium oxide is non-toxic, though it did suggest the need for more rigorous testing of all the chemicals we are putting into products – especially nano-scale synthetics that might pose a particular clean-up problem.
Well, research from Trinity College in Dublin might show that we’re already behind the curve on this. You can read the phys.org article on it here. Basically, the research showed that exposure carbon-based and silicon-based nanotechnology, including carbon nanotubes, can lead to rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases, as established by tests on human respiratory cells and on mice.
So, we now know that much of the new nanotechnology being developed may have serious health impacts. What we don’t know is where all the particles are going to end up or how easy or difficult it might be to clean it all up. Since many of the chemicals being developed are proprietary and treated as corporate secrets, there’s no guarantee that we’ll know what the new materials might be used in.
As the Guardian notes here, nanotechnology exists in a gaping hole in the regulatory framework, and companies are taking full advantage of the fact. Analysis of potential risks is virtually nonexistent. The question is, can university research money going to studies like that from Trinity College in Dublin keep up with the research and development money in the private sector. I think we know what the answer is.
Of all materials of the future, few have captured the imagination more than carbon nanotubes. Science fiction fans have seen nanotubes as the key to building the stuff of our dreams – from space elevators to cyborg-like synthetic muscles. At the same time, practical, everyday uses have been popping up all over the place, creating a list so long in needed its own Wikipedia page.
Well, add another one to the list: cleaning up oil spills. It turns out that, if you add boron into the mix, it creates elbows in the tubes. So, instead of the traditional one-dimensional alignment we’ve already been getting so much fun out of, the fibers get connected together into a three dimensional sponge. Having created a sponge, scientists logically put it to work doing what sponge-like structures do best – soaking stuff up. Made up of carbon, it attracts oil and repels water, and it can absorb up to 100 times its weight in oil according to Bobby Sumpter at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.