University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Go to chemistry home page.


New research center focuses on nanotechnology

Chemistry Professor Christy Haynes is bringing her expertise in nanotoxicology to a new multi-institutional center, the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN), which has been created with a $1.75 million grant over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) program.

Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology researchers are investigating how nanoparticles interact with living, ecological systems. Nanoparticles, which are finely divided matter, play important roles in many existing and emerging technologies, including new medical diagnostics and targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases, fuel cells and advanced batteries for hybrid/electric vehicles, and new generation solar cells that have the potential to provide free energy from the sun.

In many applications, nanoparticles are used because only a small amount of material is needed, and they exhibit some unique chemical and physical properties because of their small size, containing anywhere from 10 to 10,000 atoms.

On the downside, relatively little is known about how nanoparticles interact with living organisms or the impact of the unintentional release of nanoparticles from consumer or industrial products on the environment. CSN researchers want to reduce adverse biological and environmental impacts by understanding, predicting, and controlling specific chemical and physical interactions between nanomaterials and biological systems. The Haynes research group will focus specifically on the interaction between nanoparticles and beneficial bacteria, a critical component of the food web.

The CSN brings together the expertise of researchers from six different institutions. In addition to the University of Minnesota, this partnership includes the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The center’s director is Professor Robert Hamers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

All graduate students participating in the CSN research will experience a unique collaborative environment with frequent interaction between the various institutions, short stays in collaborative labs, new public outreach opportunities, and explicit training in novel scientific idea generation.

Over the next three years, the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology will work to achieve its goals, which may make it eligible for even more funding. The NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation program is a two-phase program. Successful centers receiving the three-year phase I funding are eligible for phase II grants that provide up to $40 million over 10 years. The CCI program supports research centers that can address major, long-term fundamental chemical research challenges, which have a high probability of both producing transformative research and leading to innovation.

"This phase I CCI focuses on an important problem, and I am pleased that my colleagues in the Department of Chemistry at the U of M are participating,” said William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “Through such collaborative research programs science advances more rapidly and student/postdoctoral training is greatly enhanced."

The University of Minnesota’s Department of Chemistry is part of the College of Science & Engineering.

More information can be found on the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology web site at

Photo of Christy Haynes by Steve Niedorf.