OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Award will allow expansion of nanotech safety research programs

09/29/2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Stacey Harper, an Oregon State University researcher who has developed one of the nation’s leading programs to test the safety of compounds created through nanotechnology, has received a five-year, $1.9 million award as an Outstanding New Environmental Scientist from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

This is a prestigious award given to only a few of the most promising new faculty investigators.

The funding will allow Harper, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, to continue and expand her initiatives to help ensure that the useful products of nanotechnology – in medicine, industry, chemical engineering and other fields – are also safe.

“The majority of nanotech compounds we have tested have been absolutely benign, but the field is so important and growing so quickly that we have to make sure nothing we produce is toxic,” Harper said.

“We’re developing methods that can predict what nanomaterials might do, based on their structure and makeup,” she said. “Ultimately, the goal is to design them specifically for safety, along with their other intended uses. Our industrial partners share this goal and have been very cooperative.”

Nanomaterials are extraordinarily small particles that, because of their size, shape and makeup, may have unique properties of value in new consumer products or medicines. They are not all inherently toxic, but some can be, and Harper’s program is trying to understand the difference.

The programs at OSU will develop rapid testing strategies, structural relationships that can help predict possible concerns, learn more about mechanisms of toxicity, develop safety protocols and create other new tools to help protect both humans and the environment as this field of research expands.

Harper is also on the faculty of the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU, and a member of the OSU Environmental Health Sciences Center. She is a signature research faculty fellow in the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and a member of ONAMI’s Safer Nanomaterials and Nanomanufacturing Initiative.