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Nanomaterials June 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Marianne Monteforte

First Synchrotron in the Middle East

Why is this topic significant?

The first synchrotron in the Middle East is opening this year and could help to enhance significantly nanomaterials research in the region and contribute toward industry growth.

Description

After nearly 20 years in the making, international research facility Sesame (Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) is set to become fully operational in 2017. The project seeks to break down political barriers by bringing together nine countries—Israel, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain, Cyprus, and the Palestinian Authority—with funding from CERN and the European Commission. The United States and Saudi Arabia did not contribute because of Iran's presence.

Sesame is a third-generation cyclic particle accelerator that operates on the basic principle of fundamental physics; as charged particles—in this case, electrons—accelerate, they emit electromagnetic radiation. Mirrors and other optic devices focus the synchrotron light into beams, which researchers can use—in a way similar to the way they use microscopes—to characterize materials.

Each beamline at the synchrotron supplies beams of light with tunable wavelengths. Of Sesame's seven planned beamlines, two are set to become operational in 2017; one beamline will emit high-energy X-ray radiation, and the other beamline will emit low-energy infrared radiation. High-energy X-ray beams have a short wavelength—similar to the size of an atom—which enables scientists to probe the properties of materials at the nanoscale. Infrared beams have a longer wavelength than X-rays have and will enable scientists to characterize biological materials on the molecular level.

Implications

More than 50 synchrotrons are in operation around the world, but Sesame is the first synchrotron in the Middle East. The location of Sesame will help researchers from both academic and commercial organizations in the Middle East to access equipment that was previously unavailable to them—partly because of immigration challenges limiting the scientists' access to international synchrotrons. And, in a region where research funding is low, research facilities are limited, and government funding of the sciences is lacking, Sesame could help to enhance technology development in nanomaterials research and foster new research collaborations.

Impacts/Disruptions

Scientists in academia and industry still have a lot to learn about the unique properties and characteristics of nanomaterials before they can reliably control the materials' behavior in the commercial product. To help organizations speed up their innovation process and accelerate a product's route to market, scientists from academia or industry can use synchrotron research facilities. Typically, industry players pay to conduct either proprietary or nonproprietary research projects at synchrotrons (either independently or in collaboration with academic organizations). For example, industry players from nanotechnology sectors—such as Johnson Matthey—use synchrotron facilities to conduct technologically and economically important investigations that range from feasibility studies to long-term projects. Such studies can help industry players to understand and optimize their existing nanomaterials products, design new nanomaterials, or advance manufacturing procedures. However, access to most synchrotron facilities is competitive, and any potential users need to apply to use the facilities by proposing a credible research case.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, engineering

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

TiO2 Nanoparticle Additives' Potential Impact on Human Health

Why is this topic significant?

Titanium-dioxide nanoparticles find widespread use in consumer products, including additives in processed foods (such as candies, chocolate, biscuits, and chewing gum), agricultural chemicals, and nutritional supplements, as well as toothpaste and sunscreen. Recent safety studies on these additives are revealing the potentially adverse effects that ingestion of the titanium dioxide additive can have on human health.

Description

The European additive E171 comprises both micro and nano titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles and finds use in a range of consumer-food products. Many research teams are focusing their research efforts on safety studies to help identify the potential risks that oral ingestion of the E171 additive has on human health.

One study led by France's National Institute for Agricultural Research revealed that E171 is absorbed via the intestine and passes into the bloodstream. In this study, the researchers exposed animal models to 10 milligrams of TiO2 per kilogram of body weight a day. This dosage is representative of the average daily consumption limit that the European Food Safety Agency recommends. According to the researchers' findings, "E171 both initiates and promotes the early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis [bowel or colon cancer] in animals." Significantly, the researchers also claim that their findings "cannot be extrapolated to humans." Nevertheless, on the basis of this study, the French government has called upon the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) to investigate the potential risks of the E171 additive on human health.

Another recent study led by researchers at Binghamton University - State University of New York, and the US Department of Agriculture (Ithaca, New York) revealed that ingestion of 30-nanometer TiO2 nanoparticles alters nutrient digestion in the small intestine. They found that the nanoparticles reduce the absorption of iron, zinc, and fatty acids and affect gene expression. Typically, the E171 additive contains nanoparticles of this size.

Implications

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles are the second-most-prevalent engineered nanomaterial in the world. Many consumers are unaware of foodstuff containing TiO2 nanoparticles as the additive E171. Currently the European Union does not list E171 as a nanomaterial, because it contains less than 50% nanoparticles (typically, E171 contains 10% to 40% TiO2 nanoparticles).

Although researchers conducted the safety studies on animal and cell-culture models, the studies provide important new data for evaluating the potential risks of the E171 additive on humans. Further studies such as the ANSES's proposed investigation could help to reveal whether the health risks of E171 to animal models translate to humans.

Impacts/Disruptions

Governments and regulatory bodies will need to reassess the safety exposure levels of TiO2 nanoparticles before classifying them as safe for use in consumer products. However, regulatory bodies differ on their classification. The US Food and Drug Administration classifies TiO2 nanoparticles as "Generally Regarded as Safe," but the governments of other countries such as Germany have banned their use in foodstuffs and food packaging. Conflicting views between food-standards agencies in various countries about the safety of TiO2 nanoparticles highlight the need for scientists to fill the knowledge gap about the safe use of TiO2 nanoparticles.

In the meantime, as an increasing number of food manufacturers use E171 additives in their consumer-food products, regulatory bodies need to be aware that the chances of consumers' potentially ingesting an unsafe level of nanoparticles may increase. If studies do reveal the impacts on human health of nanoparticles in food to be negative, food manufacturers and suppliers will need to be wary of changes to regulations and potential liability concerns.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Consumer-food products, food packaging, cosmetics, materials, pigmentation

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: