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Small particles, big impact? Exploring how nanomaterials decompose

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SPRINGFIELD – These days, “nanomaterials” – extremely tiny materials – are found in many consumer goods.

Silver, known for antibacterial and anti-odor properties, may be in everything from athletic wear to cutting boards. Zinc oxide, which prevents sun damage, has been used in sunscreen and woven into fabric for clothing. Carpet may be treated with nanoscale materials that prevent it from absorbing spills. Carbon-based nanomaterials are found in cell phones and televisions.

One thing is certain: The trend of nanotechnology means we are all more likely to buy goods with these tiny particles, and, later, dispose of these products.

What’s less certain is the affect of these nanomaterials on the environment as these goods decompose in landfills.

Studying nanomaterials
Dr. Adam Wanekaya, associate professor of chemistry, has researched nanomaterials since his days as a doctoral student in the early 2000s. Originally from Kenya, Dr. Wankaya came to the U.S. for doctoral studies at Missouri State in 2006. He is currently part of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, which encourages collaboration between scholars from Africa who now live in Canada or the U.S. and scholars who currently live in Africa.

Wanekaya traveled to a university in Nigeria for six weeks in 2015. One scientist he met there, who works with solar cells, came to Missouri State in January 2016 and planned to stay for six months to engage in research on campus.

For the last three years, he has been leading a project with undergraduate and graduate students at Missouri State who are studying how nanomaterials age in an accelerated weathering chamber. The research shows how these particles will react in conditions similar to those they would experience outdoors.

“What is the fate of those particles after three, 10, 20 years?’ asks Wanekaya.We want to make sure they don’t contribute to diseases such as leukemia, or cause harm to plants, animals or the environment,”  “Some of us recall how asbestos was previously thought to be a wonder material, only to later realize it was the cause of many deadly diseases.”

Learn more about Wanekaya’s research on Mind’s Eye, or for more information, contact Wanekaya at 417-836-5611.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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