Monthly Archives: July 2014
Nanocellulose – A Novel Support for Nanoparticles
Outreach with the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity
‘Water for Health’ engagement with high school students from Governor’s School of Agriculture
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Madeline Schreiber’s research will trace the long-term effects of coal ash spills
Monday, July 21, 2014
By Tonia Moxley, at The Roanoke Times
DANVILLE — Virginia Tech researchers hope a $25,000 National Science Foundation grant will help them find better ways to trace the long-term effects of coal ash spills like the one in February that fouled 70 miles of the Dan River from Eden, North Carolina, to Kerr Lake in Virginia.
The NSF RAPID grant will “help us get a snapshot of what’s going on,” said Madeline Schreiber, a Tech hydrogeosciences professor and lead researcher on the project. The Dan River grant was funded on April 4, two months after the coal ash spill, according to the NSF award notice. Tech environmental nanoscientist Marc Michel and geochemist Ben Gill are co-researchers on the project.
This first-step NSF grant will allow the team to gather data to apply for larger science grants that could lead to sophisticated ways to monitor long-term effects of this and other coal ash spills, Schreiber said.
Read the full story at the Roanoke Times
Image credit: Waterkeeper Alliance
Can we make Nanomedicine Sustainable?
Choking the Oceans With Plastic
From the New York Times:
The world is awash in plastic. It’s in our cars and our carpets, we wrap it around the food we eat and virtually every other product we consume; it has become a key lubricant of globalization — but it’s choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware.
I have just returned with a team of scientists from six weeks at sea conducting research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — one of five major garbage patches drifting in the oceans north and south of the Equator at the latitude of our great terrestrial deserts. Although it was my 10th voyage to the area, I was utterly shocked to see the enormous increase in the quantity of plastic waste since my last trip in 2009. Plastics of every description, from toothbrushes to tires to unidentifiable fragments too numerous to count floated past our marine research vessel Alguita for hundreds of miles without end. We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.
Plastics are now one of the most common pollutants of ocean waters worldwide. Pushed by winds, tides and currents, plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones, known to oceanographers as gyres, which comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth.
No scientist, environmentalist, entrepreneur, national or international government agency has yet been able to establish a comprehensive way of recycling the plastic trash that covers our land and inevitably blows and washes down to the sea. In a 2010 study of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, my colleagues and I estimated that some 2.3 billion pieces of plastic — from polystyrene foam to tiny fragments and pellets — had flowed from Southern California’s urban centers into its coastal waters in just three days of sampling.
The deleterious consequences of humanity’s “plastic footprint” are many, some known and some yet to be discovered. We know that plastics biodegrade exceptionally slowly, breaking into tiny fragments in a centuries-long process. We know that plastic debris entangles and slowly kills millions of sea creatures; that hundreds of species mistake plastics for their natural food, ingesting toxicants that cause liver and stomach abnormalities in fish and birds, often choking them to death. We know that one of the main bait fish in the ocean, the lantern fish, eats copious quantities of plastic fragments, threatening their future as a nutritious food source to the tuna, salmon, and other pelagic fish we consume, adding to the increasing amount of synthetic chemicals unknown before 1950 that we now carry in our bodies.
We suspect that more animals are killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change — a hypothesis that needs to be seriously tested. During our most recent voyage, we studied the effects of pollution, taking blood and liver samples from fish as we searched for invasive species and plastic-linked pollutants that cause protein and hormone abnormalities. While we hope our studies will yield important contributions to scientific knowledge, they address but a small part of a broader issue.
And on the same topic: New from PNAS in July 2014…
Plastic debris in the open ocean
“High concentrations of floating plastic debris have been reported in remote areas of the ocean, increasing concern about the accumulation of plastic litter on the ocean surface. Since the introduction of plastic materials in the 1950s, the global production of plastic has increased rapidly and will continue in the coming decades. However, the abundance and the distribution of plastic debris in the open ocean are still unknown, despite evidence of affects on organisms ranging from small invertebrates to whales. In this work, worldwide data collected across the world was synthesized to provide a global map and a first-order approximation of the magnitude of the plastic pollution in surface waters of the open ocean.”
Read the entire article at PNAS
Authors: Andrés Cózara, Fidel Echevarríaa, J. Ignacio González-Gordilloa, Xabier Irigoienb, Bárbara Úbedaa, Santiago Hernández-Leónd, Álvaro T. Palmae, Sandra Navarrof, Juan García-de-Lomasa, Andrea Ruizg, María L. Fernández-de-Puellesh, and Carlos M. Duartei
Bees and Colony Collapse
Our Bees, Ourselves
From the New York Times Opinion Pages: July 14, 2014
AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate — as well as for beekeepers, farmers, honey lovers and everyone else who appreciates this marvelous social insect — this is a catastrophe.
But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.