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Attempts to Use Nanoparticle-based Dispersant in Gulf Stymied

Scientists petition the EPA to stop the use in the Gulf oil spill of a dispersant using nanoparticles

2 min read
Attempts to Use Nanoparticle-based Dispersant in Gulf Stymied

My open question last month on whether nanotechnology could offer some solutions to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has received a few suggestions on how it could be used and some named products.

However, it seems that one nanoparticle-based solution developed by Stamford, Conn-based Green Earth Technologies has run afoul of a group of scientists  who have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency through a letter not to allow the use of the product as a dispersant in the Gulf.

I suppose it’s not a coincidence that I came to know of the story from a piece written by the investigative journalist, Andrew Schneider. You may recall my review of Mr. Schneider’s work in which I discuss his amplification (shall we call it) of some research that has indicated how some carbon nanotubes mimic the pathogenic effects of asbestos in causing lung damage.

Now please note the research is far from conclusive, is not about all nanoparticles only carbon nanotubes because of their length and at that only involves some carbon nanotubes.

With this in mind, Schneider manages to get a frustrated quote from Dr. Michael Harbut, an occupational medicine specialist who is concerned about the health of clean up workers, who says: “As does asbestos, nanoparticles have been shown to cause an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma,"

No, it hasn’t been shown that it causes mesothelioma. First, the research is only about carbon nanotubes, not nanoparticles. And the research has only shown that some carbon nanotubes can cause the same pathological effects as asbestos, namely because the CNTs are so long the phacocytes are not able to engulf them entirely so in response they release a toxin that doesn’t effect the fiber but harms the surrounding tissue. It ‘s called frustrated phacocytosis.

I really can’t find fault with Dr. Harbut here. Instead Mr. Schneider from his previous work seems to be building a case that nanoaparticles cause cancer so he found someone with a title in front of their name that could provide a quote with the words “cancer” and “nanoparticles” in the same sentence. Again, playing a bit fast and loose with terminology manages to make the story more sensational, but cheats us of getting a better idea of what the real risks are.

Now as to the efficacy or dangers of the dispersant, I have to concur that it has not been tested. But it seems that the studies on the 118 oil-controlling products that have been approved for use by the EPA are lacking in some details as well. These chemicals were approved so long ago in some cases that the EPA has not been able to verify the accuracy of their toxicity data, and so far BP has dropped over a million gallons of this stuff into the Gulf.

I get it, I really do. Let’s determine the toxicity of a product, I’m all for that. But to continue to make all nanoparticles some kind of toxic monolith foisted upon the unsuspecting public by greedy capitalists might build the reputations of investigative journalists but leaves the rest of us out in the cold.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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