Johns Hopkins faculty members specializing in
disciplines ranging from engineering to public
health have received federal funding to develop an
undergraduate minor in nanotechnology risk
assessment and public policy. The program is expected to
accept its first students by fall 2009.
Nanotechnology, which uses materials and devices
smaller than a few molecules, is providing
novel solutions to health and environmental problems.
Nanosized components are found in hundreds of
applications, from targeted cancer therapies to suntan
lotion. But because these components are so
new, scientists have not fully studied their potential
impact on health and the environment.
"We want students to learn about the potential risks
associated with the development of
nanotechnology-based solutions, as well as come to
understand the risks presented by not developing
these nanoscale solutions," said Justin Hanes, associate
professor in the Whiting School's Department
of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Hanes
co-authored the grant proposal with Edward Bouwer,
chair of the Whiting School's Department of
Geography and Environmental Engineering and director of
the Johns Hopkins-based Center for Contaminant Transport,
Fate and Remediation; and Jonathan
Links, professor in the
Bloomberg School of Public Health. All are affiliated
with the Johns Hopkins
Institute for NanoBioTechnology, which will administer
the two-year $200,000 National Science
Students in the nanorisk minor will explore the
scientific properties of nanomaterials and the
public policy ramifications of their use.
"Nanoparticles are small enough to cross cell
membranes. They also possess a large surface
area, which enhances their reactivity," Links said.
"However, little research has been done to examine
the toxicity potential of these ultrafine particles. Some
concerns have been based only on the
extrapolation of studies on other substances, such as
quartz, asbestos or particulate air pollution."
Added Bouwer, "The proposal makes clear that the
effects of nanoparticles on public health or
the environment are not well-understood. The program's goal
is to train scientists who are better
prepared to lead research, development and eventual
commercialization of safe nanotechnologies."
The new minor will involve courses on topics such as
risk science and public policy, ethics and
law, environmental engineering, public health and
toxicology. Faculty members who will develop or
teach the courses are affiliated with the Institute for
NanoBioTechnology, Whiting School of
Engineering, Bloomberg School of Public Health and Krieger
School of Arts and Sciences, as well as
the Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute, Berman
Institute of Bioethics and Center for Law and
the Public's Health.
"The program complements the curriculum of a large
group of students in the public health
studies major who also explore environmental health, health
policy and other public health-related
topics but from a broader perspective," said James Yager,
senior associate dean for academic affairs
at the School of Public Health.
A new course to be offered in spring 2008 —
Nanobiotechnology 101 — will likely be a prerequisite
of the nanorisk minor. The course was developed by
institute co-directors Peter Searson, professor of
materials science and engineering, and Denis Wirtz,
professor of chemical and biomolecular
engineering, both in the Whiting School.
"The combination of leading faculty from across
disciplines in the university exemplifies the
mission of the institute by blending and leveraging
expertise," Searson said. "It is a marvelous
opportunity to bring together pre-existing but largely
separate activities in nanotechnology within the
university to impact our students and beyond."