LEXINGTON, Ky., Victor Macrinici, a high school student at Paul Laurence Dunbar in Lexington won first place in the environmental science category at the Central Kentucky Regional Science and Engineering Fair. His project studied the effects of silver nanoparticles on nematodes, which are small worms commonly found in soil.
Macrinici spent six months working in the Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratory in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture under the mentorship of Olga Tsyusko, a research faculty member in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Tsyusko is a member of a UK team that is part of the national Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) centered at Duke University and funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to UK and Duke, other institutions involved in CEINT include Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Virginia Tech and Stanford University.
Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of matter at the nanometer scale, which is 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The field of nanotechnology and the products containing manufactured nanomaterials have grown exponentially with more than 1,000 products currently on the market, ranging from components of electronic devices to additives found in personal care products, fabrics and household cleaners.
"Given the rapid growth in the manufacturing and use of nanomaterials worldwide, it is inevitable that these materials will be released to the environment,” Tsyusko said. “We know very little about the environmental fate and transport and the potential toxicity of nanomaterials to organisms, and this is what the CEINT research efforts are focused on."
Silver nanoparticles are currently one of the most commonly used nanomaterials in consumer products, and they eventually end up in the wastewater stream before being released into the environment. Macrinici was interested in whether descendants of the nematodes, which were pre-exposed to silver citrate-coated nanoparticles, can develop resistance to these nanoparticles. His study found the descendents showed higher mortality than the controls, suggesting that nematodes appear to become more sensitive to the silver nanoparticles over multiple generations.
"I really enjoyed working in the lab and gaining important lab experience,” Macrinici said. "Worldwide, there has been a lot of research into nanomaterials because of their unique properties and widespread application, but the potential hazards they may pose must be considered."
"I am very proud of Victor and Olga for this accomplishment and pleased that we had the opportunity to host Victor in our lab," said Paul Bertsch, who leads the UK CEINT team. "I am hopeful that he will join us again this summer and expand his studies on the toxicity of silver nanomaterials."
University of Kentucky - College of Agriculture