Science and Technology Innovation Program

U.S. EPA Expert Joins Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Dr. Barbara Karn to Explore "Green" Nanotech as Pollution Solution

Sep 27, 2005

Internationally-recognized environmental scientist Barbara Karn has joined the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. Dr. Karn will focus on innovative ways to apply the principles of "green" chemistry and "green" engineering to nanotechnology.

The two-year, $3 million Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is located at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and was created in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Its aim is to help businesses, governments, and the public anticipate and manage nanotechnology's possible health and environmental implications.

Director David Rejeski welcomed Karn as the Project's new Visiting Environmental Scientist, stating that "Nanotechnology offers people a new way of doing business. It's important ‘to get it right'-—to design both manufacturing processes and products with the environment in mind. Barbara Karn has the experience to help make that happen."

Nanoscience is the study of the fundamental principles of materials and structures with at least one dimension roughly between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, and a human hair measures approximately 50,000 nanometers across. Nanotechnology is the application of these principles to make nanostructures into useful products.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) predicts that the market for nanotech products and services will reach $1 trillion by 2015. Supported by an annual $1 billion federal investment, U.S. scientists and engineers are working to harness the technology to help provide the world with innovations such as sustainable energy, quantum computing, and drugs to treat cancerous tumors before they metastasize.

Eventually, nanotechnology is expected to affect virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives and to transform almost every area of the economy. Today, there are over 700 products on the market claiming to be made from nanomaterials or to use or support nanotechnology.

Dr. Karn has led EPA's research grants program for nanotechnologies in the agency's Office of Research and Development since the program's establishment in 2001. To date, EPA has funded research totaling approximately $25 million to study the environmental applications and implications of nanotechnology. Specific grants aimed at promoting environmental applications include: the development of low-cost, rapid, and simplified methods of removing toxic contaminants from surface and ground water; new sensors that are more sensitive for measuring pollutants; green manufacturing of nanomaterials; and more efficient, selective catalysts. Grants addressing implications include, for example, studies on the potential toxicity of quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, iron oxide nanoparticles; research on the environmental fate and transport of carbon nanotubes and fullerenes; and studies on how nanotechnology affects material flows.

In addition to EPA's grants program, Dr. Karn has been instrumental in building a research community that considers the environment in its nanotechnology studies. She has accomplished this through work with professional societies and numerous research workshops and symposia on nanotechnology and the environment, involving federal agencies, industry, and university scientists and engineers.

Dr. Karn represented EPA on the interagency Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology subcommittee (NSET) of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Science and Technology Council.

Karn holds a Ph.D. in biology and environmental science from Florida International University. She has master's degrees from Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University, and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Ohio State University. Her professional background ranges from electroplating to polymers, from environmental consulting to small business owner, and from academic administrator to water quality management planner.

Dr. Karn is a much sought-after lecturer. She is the lead editor of the new book, Nanotechnology and the Environment: Applications and Implications (Oxford University Press, June 2005).

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is the living, national memorial to President Wilson established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Center establishes and maintains a neutral forum for free, open and informed dialogue.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is a national charitable organization serving the public interest by providing information, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. The Trusts will invest $204 million in fiscal year 2006 to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues.

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