The US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation have enlisted several UCSB faculty members to head key elements of a new $24 million dollar center on the environmental effects of engineered nanomaterials.

The UCSB professors – from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, as well as other departments – will be involved in the seven integrated research groups within the center to study the possible impact of nanomaterials on the environment, living organisms and health.

After competing for and obtaining the government grant, researchers from several UC campuses collaborated to establish the UC Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. The center will conduct the nation’s first large scale study of its kind.

UC CEIN will consist of scientists and experts in environmental science, ecotoxicology and risk perception who will study the behavior of microscopic byproducts from the nanomaterials industry. While the five-year program will be headquartered at UCLA, Bren School Professor Arturo Keller will serve as the associate director of the center.

According to Mike Witherell, the UCSB Vice Chancellor of Research, the university was given the opportunity to delve into nanomaterials research as a result of a void in governmental regulatory policy.

“The NSF and the EPA jointly initiated this research program because the government has too little scientific basis to determine regulatory policy in this area,” Witherell said in a press release. “A powerful team of researchers from UCLA and UCSB developed a compelling proposal showing how they would cover the broad landscape of research issues.”

Patricia Holden, a UCSB environmental microbiology professor, said the main goal of UC CEIN is to provide information to the EPA and NSF on the possible environmental repercussions of nanomaterials.

“We are keen on delivering understanding that will allow industry, government and all stakeholders to make appropriate decisions regarding environmentally compatible policies,” Holden said.

Additionally, Holden said the involvement of UCSB researchers in UC CEIN will further bolster UCSB’s reputation for innovative studies.

“UCSB is ideal because we have a strong group in ecology, environmental science and management,” Holden said. “The fact that we are very interdisciplinary as a university makes this an ideal location. Walls are very low between departments, which is great for students and professors.”

Holden also said UC CEIN has the potential to provide students with pioneering opportunities in a ground-breaking field.

“Studying nanomaterials in the environment is a very new field. We have the opportunity to train students in research in this new field, enabling them to embark on careers in environmental nanoscience,” Holden said. “In addition to the direct training students will receive, we will all have the opportunity to contemplate what it means to do research that can hopefully circumvent an environmental problem. Society has not done a good job of this in the past. Can we take what we learned about the environment and organisms before, and circumvent creating new environmental problems? In funding this research, the NSF and EPA are hoping to accomplish this.”