VTSuN@SNO, Hokie Half Marathon photo finish and black cats in dark rooms

Last month, the second Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO) conference was held in Santa Barbara, CA. Hmm.. a conference on sustainable nanotechnology – was VTSuN there too? You bet!

Dr. Mike Roco and Dr. David Allen gave the plenaries on Day 1. Dr. Roco focused on the “N in SNO”, and gave an overview of where nano was, what trajectory is has followed and where it is going as a game-changing technology. Dr. David Allen elucidated the “S in SNO” by discussing the issues and challenges in making nano sustainable, on the use of multiple metrics to assess sustainability and incorporating life cycle thinking in nano. Using the “The Parable of Thomas Midgeley”, Dr. Allen also highlighted on the well-intentioned, but in hindsight, costly mistakes that we can make with emerging technologies. The technical sessions for Day 1 covered Green Synthesis & Green Manufacturing, Environmental Applications of Nano, Application of Nano in Agriculture and Food, and Nano-Education.

There were eleven talks and three posters presented by VTSuN members at SNO. Dr. Vikesland introduced the VTSuN IGEP in the Nano-Education session on Day 1, Marjorie presented her research on paper-based nano-sensors, Virginia discussed S. aureus detection using aptamer-based nano-sensors for and coffeemug talked about the life cycle assessment (LCA) of “green” nano-synthesis processes.

VTSuN presenters at SNO

 VTSuN presenters at SNO: Top row from left: Dr. Vikesland, James, Becky, Yanjun, Ron, Marjorie, Jake. Bottom row from right: Matt, Gargi, Virginia, Laura, Nina and coffeemug

Dr. Andre Nel kicked off the proceedings on Day 2 with a riveting plenary on the applications of nanotechnology in biomedicine, which was followed by Dr. Franςoise Roure’s  plenary on the economic impact of nanotechnology. The topics covered in the technical sessions on Day 2 were Nanomedicine, Nano-LCA, Fate and Transport of Nanomaterials, Nano-Toxicology and Legal, Societal and Policy issues vis-a-vis Nano. Dr. Vikesland led the Fate and Transport session with a broad overview of the Journey of Nano – it’s past, present and anticipated future (“Nanomaterial Fate in the Environment: Where have we been and where are we going?”). This technical talk also featured poetry from James Joyce (“…a way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun….” (Finnegans Wake)) which made coffeemug’s day. Dr. Nina Quadros, (Associate Director, VTSuN), introduced the revamped Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory, and Matt presented the coolest 3D visualization of gold nanoparticle deposition and aggregation using Raman spectroscopy, which still gives coffeemug research envy.

Laura, Jake and James represented VTSuN at the poster session on Day 2. Laura discussed the optimization of gold-gold-sulfide nanoparticle synthesis. Jake’s poster featured his research on disinfection by-products in wastewater effluents. James presented his research on the characterization of nanoparticulate cerium oxide released from diesel fuel catalyst. (You can read the abstracts for the posters here. For more about Laura, James and Jake’s research, check out the VTSuN student profiles.)

Speaking of nanoceria, the conference also featured a special workshop on nanoceria, sponsored by the University of Kentucky and SNO. The workshop was timely in bringing the nano-community together to discuss the various “biological, human health, environmental and societal improvement aspects of nanoceria”.

The plenaries on Day 3 were given by Dr. Joseph Wang (“Man-Made Nanomachines: Design and Environmental Applications”) and Dr. Jeff Wong (“Relevance of new California Safe Consumer Products Regulations to Nanomaterials“). Besides the technical sessions on the Environmental Applications of Nano, Fate and Transport and Nano-tox, which continued from the previous days, Day 3 also featured talks on Nano-risk assessment, Green energy and Tools for Nanotechnology. Becky presented her (awesome) research on 3D cellular imaging of biosynthesized gold nanoparticles in algae (more research envy). Ron discussed the mechanism of silver nanoparticle sulfidation. Gargi talked about the toxicity and biodegration of nanocellulose and Yanjun examined the impact of nanomaterial disposal on microbial communities in wastewater. (You can access the conference program and slides here).

The range and types of research presented at the conference showed the mind-boggling advancements in nanotechnology and how many new dark rooms with potential black cats* have opened up. It was especially heartening to see the number of talks we had on the social aspects of nanotechnology (e.g. this, this and this), besides the talks focused on the fascinating science itself. If there ever were doubts about the truly (and necessarily) interdisciplinary nature of nanoscience and nanotechnology, last month’s SNO conference should have laid those to rest.


Ignorance: Looking for black cats in dark rooms

Reflecting back on the conference, I have a much clearer sense of the significance of my own research (specifically, nano-LCA). At the same time, I can’t help but feel how tiny a speck my research is on the mosaic of all the nanotechnology and nanoscience research out there… Nonetheless, I came away from the conference happy to have met several other nano-LCA folks and we have had some engaging conversations which we have continued even after we left sunny Santa Barbara. (Special thanks to Leila Pourzahedi and Dr. Matthew Eckelman for that.)

The next SNO conference will be in Boston. I hope to see you there!

VTSuN members at SNO 2013

 The good-looking VTSuN group at SNO (2013).


In other news:

Virginia and coffeemug ran in the first Hokie Half Marathon, earlier in September . It was a neck-to-neck closely contested race between the two, with Virginia beating coffeemug by 0.6 seconds, thereby winning the 935th place in the race, with coffeemug trailing behind at 936th (I mentioned “photo finish” in the title – I don’t have photos. I lied.) It was Virginia’s and coffeemug’s first half-marathon. Looking forward to many more. (My knees just creaked and said, “Uh Oh…”.)

* For more on black cats in dark rooms, see this and Dr. Stuart Firestein’s TED talk (18:33 minutes).


Image sources:

Black cat in the dark room: http://www.college.columbia.edu/cct/winter12/columbia_forum (Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

The coffee mug with coffee beans: http://www.dexknows.com



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