As the world rushes to use nanoparticles in everything from disease treatment to oil spill clean up, the impacts on the environment and human health remain uncertain. Recognizing the importance of understanding these effects, the National Science Foundation recently awarded civil and environmental engineering Assistant Professor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award.
Oyanedel-Craver will use the five-year, $432,000 award to study how bacteria respond when exposed to rare earth element oxide and metal nanoparticles. Such nanoparticles are used as contrast agents during MRI examinations and as agents to prevent odors in clothing, among other uses.
When released into the environment, such nanoparticles may change how bacteria function. Because bacteria recycle environmental nutrients and some of them can cause disease, their reaction to exposure to nanoparticles is of interest to researchers.
“Nanotechnology can greatly improve our quality of life through the development of more effective medicines or materials with novel functionalities,” Oyanedel-Craver says. “However, this technology needs to be developed in a responsible way. My research will help to ensure minimum negative impacts to the environment and human health.”
The CAREER Award comes as the College of Engineering seeks to focus its research around seven themes. One emphasizes nanoparticles research and another seeks to leverage engineering expertise to deliver clean water around the world. As a group, the seven themes seek to shape the world in which we live.