Science Wednesday: Big Ideas in Tiny Particles

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
By Phil Sayre
You may have heard of nanotechnology, but then again, maybe you haven’t.  Despite the ubiquity of nanotechnology—it is now widely used in products ranging from clothing (which incorporates bacteria-fighting nano silver) and sunscreen, to nanoengineered batteries, fuel cells and catalytic converters—many people don’t know what it is or why it’s important.

It’s easy to discount the impacts of nanotechnology because we don’t see nanoparticles.  They are really small.  In fact, a nanometer is a mere one billionth of a meter.  If that doesn’t give you a visual, here are some examples of what I mean:
•    A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
•    There are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch
•    A human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers wide.

Despite their diminutive nature, nanomaterials have global impact.  Research funds for nanotechnology have steadily increased over the past decade to over $10 Billion USD per year worldwide!

The U.S. government’s efforts to assess the potential risks of nanotechnology are coordinated by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a collaborative project comprised of 25 agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Environment and Health Sciences, National Institute of Health, and others. The NNI is also cooperating with the European Commission to conduct environmental, health and safety research (for more, see: http://us-eu.org).
The big question about nanotechnology is not whether we can benefit from the technology, but whether we can ensure the technology is as safe as possible.

Over the next three years, the EPA will be working to design a number of new tools that will make it much easier for manufacturers and consumers to recognize the safety or danger of certain nanomaterials.  We also plan to provide solutions and alternatives to the way nanomaterials are produced in order to make their production greener in the near future.
As we collect more data on nanoparticles, we can better understand how to use nanotechnology in sustainable, healthy ways.  Nanomaterials are excellent tools for efficiency and sustainability, and every year we become more and more adept at using those tools to make our world a better place.

Attending the Society of Toxicology Conference in San Francisco this week?  Be sure to attend the Nano Workshop on March 13 (2:45pm – 3:45pm) that will summarize U.S and E.U. Nanotechnology research programs.

About the author: Phil Sayre is the Deputy National Program Director for the Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program.

Editors Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: EPA Teams Up with L’Oréal to Advance Research

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Monica Linnenbrink

Now I can look great and feel good about using my favorite mascara. Why? Because EPA researchers are collaborating with L’Oréal to help end the need for animal testing. EPA is using its ToxCast program to screen chemicals to understand their potential impact on biological processes that may lead to adverse health effects.

EPA’s ToxCast program screens chemicals using state-of-the-art scientific methods (including robots!) to learn how these chemicals affect the human body. We’ve never tested chemicals found in cosmetics before, so this partnership with L’Oréal will expand the types of chemicals that ToxCast screens.

L’Oréal is providing EPA $1.2 million in collaborative research funding plus safety data from a set of representative substances used in cosmetics, which will expand the types of chemical use groups assessed by ToxCast. EPA will then compare its ToxCast results to L’Oréal’s data to determine if ToxCast is appropriate for use in assessing the safety of chemicals used in cosmetics.

Traditional chemical toxicity testing is very expensive and time consuming, so many chemicals in use today have not been thoroughly evaluated for potential toxicity. ToxCast, on the other hand, is able to rapidly screen thousands of chemicals via hundreds of tests and provide results that are relevant to various types of toxicity.

As someone who uses L’Oréal products, I’m excited that they are taking the initiative to better understand how chemicals in their cosmetics might interact with my body’s natural processes. I’m also excited to hear that they are exploring new ways of testing that could end the need for animal testing. Since I use their products on my face, it’s nice to know that L’Oréal is working to ensure their products are safe to use and are working to do this in an animal friendly way.

About the author: Monica Linnenbrink is a Public Affairs Specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Emerging Science

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Dimetrius Simon

Recently I attended “Emerging Science for Environment Health Decisions” conference as a student contractor to the EPA.  I had just started and this was a new opportunity for me to hear first-hand from scientific experts about the advances that are emerging for new tools and improved approaches in environmental health decisions. For me, it was an introduction to the world of science.

Coming from a job at the Washington Post, this science conference once again opened my eyes to the intricate and fascinating study of environmental science that I can recollect from my college days. Not only did I find it intense and exciting at the same time, I also felt a keen sense of comfort as I sat amongst a room full of scientists taking notes on presentations some of which I may have had little experience on, but great interest in learning more about.

As I listened to Lesa Aylward – principal at Summit Toxicology – talk about Biomonitoring and how this exposure tool is useful when particular chemicals are widespread and frequent in a selected population; then I heard EPA’s Dr. Thomas Knudsen’s talk about predictive models with liver tumors and rat fertility. It occurred to me that a mobile App would be a great tool to demonstrate some of these concepts.

As EPA evolves in the mobile world and attracts a bigger audience, I think that there’s no better way to allow EPA scientists to display cool graphs that depict their latest scientific findings than on an App. We live in a fast and mobile society and easy access to relevant and quick new information is a must. Having a mobile App to enable scientists, professionals and students to share their cool findings, photo galleries, data and graphs, would be very intriguing.

In fact, I think , after listening to this conference, and seeing the passion of these scientists, that it’s a wonderful feeling to see how working on the smallest things and using them to create something much bigger could potentially save a life, a community or even bring us a step closer to a cure or prevention. I feel like my awareness of this “science” in my everyday life will improve the decisions I make as I try to attend as many more EPA conferences to learn as much as possible about the world of environmental science.

About the Author: Dimetrius Simon is a student contractor working with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Mentoring with DC EnvironMentors

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Mike Messner

One thing I love about EPA is the passion my colleagues bring to the job.  We believe we make a difference to public health and environment.  We assess the costs and benefits of our rules and regulations, but none of us can assess the value of what we do on any particular hour or day.  Believe it or not, this is what was going through my head as I waited at Metro Center one Wednesday evening.

I was waiting impatiently for my EnvironMentors student, Yishaac, to arrive.  Yishaac and I were paired as part of the EnvironMentors program.  Since 1992, this program has connected thousands of minority high school students with DC-area scientists.   Mentors guide the students as they develop environmental science projects.  The program ends each spring, with students presenting their projects to elementary school classes and displaying their projects at the local EnvironMentors science fair.

Yishaac was late.  I felt bad about his “wasting” my time, but then started to think about the value of that time.  I figured that the value of my time with Yishaac depends on the kind of difference I make in his life.  In terms of probability, I believe there is:

  • a tiny probability of making no difference (value = 0),
  • a small probability of making a small difference (value about equal to my time invested), and
  • a fair probability of making a huge difference (great value).

EnvironMentors reports that 98 percent of participating students graduate from high school and 95 percent go on to college!  By comparison, average rates for the District of Columbia are only 43 percent and 12 percent, respectively.  Given that my time with Yishaac could easily have this kind of impact, I figure one hour of waiting could be more valuable than what I earn in one hour at EPA—perhaps lots more.

So, I settled down and let go of my impatience.  Yishaac arrived one hour late, but I wasn’t angry or upset.  He apologized and explained how he spent the entire hour getting to the station.  The important thing is that he made it and I hung in there.  Later that evening, we called Dr. Dan Costa, EPA’s National Program Director for clean air research to discuss air pollutants and lung function (Yishaac’s research area).

About the author:  Dr. Messner is a mathematical statistician with EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.  An EPA employee since 1998, he models microbial and chemical contaminants in drinking water and assesses the benefits of EPA’s drinking water regulations.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Modeling Matters

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Tanya Otte

Did you know that it’s Air Quality Awareness Week?

If you did, that’s great!  If not, that’s OK, too.  With so many “awareness weeks” out there, it’s hard to be aware of them all.  Keeping this in mind, and recognizing that awareness of any issue should not be limited to one week of the year, my colleagues and I in EPA’s Atmospheric Modeling and Analysis Division are launching a periodic feature to help keep you informed of air quality research that may affect your life.

Our feature is called “Modeling Matters.”  You’ll find us here in Greenversations as occasional contributors on Science Wednesdays.  “Modeling Matters” is a triple entendre.  As environmental scientists, we are interested in the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases in the atmosphere, and in their translations between those states, so we are actively modeling different types of matter.  In addition, we plan to use this forum to discuss issues that are important to environmental modeling, so these are modeling matters.  Finally, my colleagues and I believe it is imperative to simulate complex interactions occurring every day in the atmosphere with scientific credibility, and therefore modeling matters to us.

We hope you’ll find that modeling matters to you, too.

We are committed to providing honest, scientifically sound glimpses into our work and how it may affect you.  My colleagues and I are regular people with normal jobs, and we are fully aware of our charge to serve the public.  We’re the ones rolling up our sleeves and making the changes to improve the models that influence some big decisions on environmental issues.    Sometimes we work on controversial scientific topics.

Our primary goal for “Modeling Matters” is to inform you of the role that our models play in protecting human health and the environment.  We hope you’ll even learn a few things about how our models work.  If you have something you’d like to add to the discussion or a topic you’d like to see addressed, we’d love to hear from you!  We hope you’ll be back next week for our first full-feature blog post.

About the author:  Tanya Otte has a career in modeling that does not involve runways in New York or Paris.  She is a research physical scientist and has worked at EPA in atmospheric modeling and analysis since 1998.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Square Pegs, Round Holes, and Chemical Safety for Sustainability

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Jeff Morris, PhD

All our lives we have been cautioned against trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The metaphor itself is constructed to make such an effort seem foolish and just a bit unsavory: forcing the hard edges of a square into the smooth curves of a circle evokes a certain violence and violation of geometric propriety. And the message behind the saying is clear: don’t try to join things that clearly don’t belong together.

However, fitting square pegs into round holes is just what we are doing in EPA’s Office of Research and Development: we are encouraging new collaborations between scientific disciplines to formulate innovative science questions to address chemical safety. We think this is a very good thing, but it does raise questions.

What, for instance, does cultural anthropology have to do with molecular design? Perhaps nothing; or perhaps quite a bit. A cultural anthropologist would be interested in how a society’s institutions shape the tools it creates and how it uses those tools. A chemist or engineer designs a chemical or material object with some intention in mind. (Design implies intent: nobody creates something for no reason). Once designed, how will society use the new chemical or material? Importantly for EPA, will it be used in a way that minimizes impact on, or perhaps even improves, the environment and human well-being? Neither the chemist nor the anthropologist alone can answer these questions. But perhaps the two of them, together with environmental scientists, can. Maybe a fit can be found for a square peg within a round hole.

Finding flex in the square peg/round hole metaphor doesn’t mean forcing fits that don’t make sense. In EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program, sometimes we will need to just let chemists do their chemistry within their own disciplinary space. However, all the while we can be mindful that sometimes square edges can be rounded off and the walls of circles stretched, and bringing together very different scientific disciplines can lead to the shaping of innovative research questions that take science in new and rewarding directions. Since old ways of working within disciplinary boundaries have not always given us science and technology that has advanced environmental sustainability, perhaps it’s time to not take as given old sayings and metaphors, and see if we can’t fit a few square pegs into round holes.

About the author: Jeff Morris, PhD is the National Program Director for Nanotechnology in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

P3: Working for a Sustainable Future

This post in the Science Wednesday series is coming to you early as we prepare for Earth Day activities. Stay tuned to Greenversations for more!

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

For the last seven years, EPA has challenged teams of students to compete for the People, Prosperity and Planet (P3) Award, which includes funding to develop sustainable projects.

Many past P3 award winning projects have grown, sparking full-fledged companies with employees making an impact on our economy as well as our global environment.  For example, a 2008 team from the University of California at Davis developed a process that produces biodegradable plastics from sewage.  Team members launched the company Micromidas a year after winning, have leveraged $3.6 million in venture capital, and currently employ 22 people.

A 2005 winning team from Oberlin College developed a data mining display software system that shows real-time energy and water usage in dormitories and other large buildings.  The team started The Lucid Design Group, which now has 12 employees and has sold their pioneering Building Dashboard Software to hundreds of commercial, civic, institutional, and residential buildings throughout the United States.

And last year, Harvard University along with MIT, Qinghai Normal University, and Tsinghua University won a P3 award for developing a lightweight solar energy device that provides agricultural and nomadic communities in the Himalayas a low-cost, portable means of cooking, heating, and generating electricity. The project spurred the founding the non-profit One Earth Design.

One Earth Design has also been recognized by the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, St. Andrews Prize for the Environment, the MIT $100k Competition, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Lemelson Foundation, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship and the Yunus Innovation Challenge.

Sustainable innovations like these are the environmental and economic future not just for our nation, but the world. They are creating real time solutions to some of our more pressing global issues.

This year, 55 teams of more than 400 students will showcase projects that provide solutions to environmental challenges including clean drinking water, green building, renewable energy sources, sustainable agriculture practices and the manufacture of environmentally-friendly materials and green chemicals. Their solutions, just like those of the last seven years, have broad and worldwide impact—affecting countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Several projects focus specifically on Haiti.

The competition will culminate with final judging during EPA’s 7th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall April 16-17, 2011 as part of EPA’s Earth Day events. The projects are open to the public and can be viewed on Saturday and Sunday.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a science outreach specialist and science communicator at EPA.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Women in Science: Ann Richard

By Marguerite Huber

I have always envisioned myself working at EPA—out saving the planet. As a current intern, getting to interview those who actually do is particularly exciting to me.

Enter Ann Richard, an EPA computational chemist.

To get where she is today, Ann followed her talents in math and science to a PhD in physical chemistry. Before her post doc and EPA, she had stints working at an airport, and even an amusement park. But now, “I appreciate working for an agency that has the component of benefiting the public,” stated Ann while speaking of the EPA. She has been working here since 1987 (which is hard for me to imagine since that is longer than I have even been alive).

Today, Ann works in an area termed “chem-informatics,” a cross between chemistry and computer science that focuses the construction and use of chemical databases to address problems crossing the disciplines of chemistry, biology, and toxicology. Her greatest achievement has been the Distributed Structure-Searchable Toxicity (DSSTox) Public Database Network, sharing important information about chemicals with the public. It has been used by government, academia, and scientists worldwide. Furthermore, Ann manages the chemical informatics component of the ToxCast and Tox21 projects, which provide a foundation for improved toxico-chemoinformatics and structure-activity relationship capabilities in predictive toxicology.

In her career, Ann devotes a large effort to communicating across different disciplines. “You have to put yourself in the audience’s place and it is not easy, you have to work at it,” she said. In the end she finds it rewarding and worthwhile to try to bridge disciplines, even if she has to spend half a day on creating one perfect PowerPoint slide.

Her favorite part of her job is meeting amazing people from different countries. Ann has the opportunity to become acquainted with many talented people within her field worldwide. She derives a lot of satisfaction from knowing she has reached the point where she has gained the respect of her peers in her field.

Ann’s inspiration comes from ordinary people who do extraordinary things. While growing up, she never remembered being discouraged about being in the science field. If she was, it only made her more determined to succeed. “Don’t be intimidated,” are her wise words towards girls everywhere. In that case, I am going to pretend that toxico-chemoinformatics does not sound so intimidating!

About the author: Marguerite Huber is an intern from Indiana University currently working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: The Future is Sustainability

By Paul Anastas

LPJ-at-NRCWow! November 30th was an amazing day for the EPA. Not only are we in the midst of commemorating four decades of accomplishments in protecting the health and the environment, but Administrator Jackson also made a landmark speech at the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Science on the future of the EPA. That future is sustainability. The Administrator laid out her vision to a packed house of luminaries from across the spectrum, from academia to industry, to environmental groups.

The speech launched a study being conducted by the National Research Council (NRC) to provide an operational framework for EPA to incorporate sustainability into all the work we do; all of our decisions and all of our actions. While the Administrator was clear to emphasize that dramatic change like this doesn’t occur overnight, she also made it clear that just as the risk paradigm before it, a sustainability framework can have impact everyday even as it is continually refined and honed. In the summer of next year (2011) the NRC report with all of its recommendations will be completed and ready for review by the Agency. What this means is that we will continue to move forward and progress beyond the problem-by-problem approach to environmental protection and recognize that all environmental issues are linked; climate to energy; energy to water; water to agriculture, etc. We know that systems problems call for systems solutions and this sustainability framework will help us more effectively and more potently accomplish our mission in the future.

The body of excellent work on sustainability science has been rapidly growing for over two decades. There is widespread recognition across the scientific community that sustainability, holistic thinking, and a systems approach to environmental protection are the only way forward. The study launched yesterday is the critical step that so many sustainability scientists have been waiting for.

So what does this mean for the work of EPA? It means that the excellent work that is already being done—the science, the research, the innovative thinking and technology development—will of course continue. But, our work will be revitalized by taking advantage of the new tools, perspectives and enhanced effectiveness that goes along with sustainability.

The response to the Administrator’s announcement was uniformly positive and enthusiastic. This positive energy will continue to grow as the power and potential of sustainability science is realized.

Yesterday was a tremendous day for sustainability. But what’s most exciting is that it was just the beginning.

About the Author: Paul Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and is widely known as “The Father of Green Chemistry.”

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Innovations in Food Preservation using my Mother’s Nut Jar

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Daniel Liss

On Earth Day, I had the privilege of exhibiting my project—an energy efficient approach to food preservation—at EPA’s 6th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo. I was able to preserve food with a practically negligible impact on the environment.

Using my mother’s nut jar and other household equipment, I invented a device for preserving food that employs a promising, inexpensive new technique that could serve as an alternative to modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), the corporate industry standard. MAP involves displacing the air inside a container with either a single gas or mixture of gases to create an atmosphere that slows the deterioration of food.

Rather than displacing air, my device achieves the same objective with a simple chemical reaction. I apply an electrical charge to carbon fiber positioned inside a container, causing the fiber to burn. The surrounding oxygen reacts with the burning carbon to form carbon dioxide within the container.

In short, the existing air inside the container is transformed into a low-oxygen, high-carbon dioxide, atmosphere—hostile to the kinds of bacteria that are most harmful to food.

Although I was only 15 and my prototype was made from a nut jar, I had the opportunity to test my device at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which graciously provided laboratory space and funding after learning about my idea during a summer internship.

Based on my test results, I was able to confirm that my device significantly inhibits bacterial growth and also slows the enzymatic degradation of meat. Even more exciting is that it works with just a few pieces of relatively inexpensive equipment, and unlike vacuum packaging, does not crush food, or suck out volatile ingredients such as fats and oils.

My method essentially replicates the benefits of MAP, without the need for sophisticated equipment or large amounts of pressurized gasses on hand. Most importantly, a package atmosphere only needs to be changed once, reducing the need for additives.

About the Author:  Daniel Liss is a rising junior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Since EPA’s Expo, he won a gold medal at the International Environmental Project Olympiad (INEPO), in Istanbul, Turkey. Previously, he had won a bronze medal at the International Sustainable World [Environment, Energy, Engineering] Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP) in Houston, Texas.

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