This NSF award by the Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology program supports work by Professors Micah Green, Jaclyn CaÃ±as, and Mohammad Saed of Texas Tech University to develop new methods to detect the presence of carbon nanotubes in agricultural crops. Carbon nanotubes are among the most widely used carbon-based nanomaterials, and one area of potential use for nanotubes is for the improvement and benefit of agricultural production, such as smart delivery systems for pesticides and other chemicals. The study of nanotube uptake into the roots of agricultural crops is a pressing issue; this is particularly true in regard to the industrial interest in utilizing nanotubes in agricultural pesticides and other products that might deposit nanotubes in soil.
However, common methods of detecting trace amounts of nanotubes in crops are limited. The Texas Tech team will pioneer a new technique to detect these materials in crops by using low-power microwave exposure. Although this unusual property has been known for some time, it has never been utilized to solve scientific challenges in the area of environmental toxicology. Nanotubes undergo rapid heating in response to microwaves at levels much higher than other common materials. The Texas Tech team will test the hypothesis that microwave exposure will show a marked difference between nanotube-laden and nanotube-free agricultural samples.
The microwave-based characterization method is both novel and useful, as it addresses a major scientific problem in the field of nanotoxicology. This concept is enabled by the uniquely collaborative combination of expertise fielded by the PI and co-PIs in their respective areas of nanomaterials, toxicology, and microwave physics. Microwave heating of CNTs has never been used for detection before and has never been applied to the critical issue of nanotechnology?s environmental and agricultural effects. Thus, this program has the potential to have widespread impacts on safety and testing protocols for nanomaterial-based agricultural products in the U.S.
The outreach and diversity efforts of the program will place a particular emphasis on recruiting undergraduate researchers from underrepresented groups and incorporating these students and their interdisciplinary research findings into educational outreach programs. These activities will augment and further disseminate successful K-12 educational programs initiated by the PI and co-PIs under prior NSF awards.