Nanotechnology Center Receives California’s Highest Environmental Honor UCSB-Bren Faculty Play Leading Roles in Research That is Leading to Safety Policies


James Badham

The University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC CEIN), a research center based at University of California, Santa Barbara and University of California, Los Angeles, has been awarded the California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) in the field of Green Chemistry. The award was announced by Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), Matthew Rodriquez at a Jan. 22 ceremony at CalEPA headquarters in Sacramento.

The award is “California’s most prestigious environmental honor, given only to Californians who exemplify exceptional leadership for protecting and enhancing the environment while at the same time providing economic growth,” according to CalEPA.

“Our campus is very proud that our UC Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology has been recognized with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award,” said UCSB Chancellor, Henry T. Yang. “This is an important and prestigious testament to the contributions of our outstanding UCSB and UCLA faculty and researchers, who are assessing safety and environmental risks in nanomaterials and educating future scientists and engineers.”

“When the UC CEIN began, little was known about the environmental implications of nanotechnology,” said Bren School dean, Steve Gaines. “Rather than waiting for problems to emerge, the people behind this incredibly successful collaboration have proactively generated findings that are informing policy being developed around the world to guide the safe production and use of nanoparticles.”

With three professors – Patricia Holden, Arturo Keller, and Hunter Lenihan – each leading one of seven CEIN themes (and Keller serving as the center’s associate director), the Bren School has made important contributions to UC CEIN’s ongoing research, which is funded by a five-year, 24 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation. Keller attended the CalEPA ceremony along with fellow UCSB professor and UC CEIN researcher Roger Nisbet; center director and UCLA professor of medicine Andreé Nel; UCLA faculty members and CEIN researchers David Avery, Hillary Godwin, and Yoram Cohen; and UC CEIN outreach coordinator Elina Nasser.

“It’s great that the state of California recognizes this area of research, which many states are not even thinking about,” said Keller. “The fact that this has high-enough priority to receive an award shows leadership by the state, and it’s motivating for everyone at CEIN. It makes us realize that the work is important and we’re having an impact.”

Since its inception in 2008, the UC CEIN has become a world-class research entity focused on the responsible use and safe implementation of nanotechnology in the environment. The center is widely respected globally for developing novel approaches to evaluate engineered nanomaterials in a variety of environments to determine whether and to what degree they are toxic to living organisms, how they move through various environmental media, and what mechanisms may be involved in producing toxic effects. These efforts have helped create a paradigm shift for investigating nanomaterial hazard and risk at a scale commensurate with the rate of new nanomaterial development.

“The ability to address nanotechnology safety is key to advancing nanomaterials in the marketplace,” said center director André Nel, professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Public Health at UCLA. “frameworks, methodologies, and tools developed at the UC CEIN are not only being used by state and federal agencies, but are also being adopted by industries across the United State and internationally. The center’s work is helping to ensure that companies engaged in technology development are thinking about safety from the development stages instead of focusing solely on desirable new material properties.”

The UC CEIN also plays a critical role in educating the next generation of nano-scientists, engineers, and policymakers to anticipate and mitigate potential future environmental hazards associated with nanotechnology. Housed at UCLA with a second major research hub at UCSB, the UC CEIN engages researchers at nearly two dozen research institutions in the United States and worldwide. US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson recently praised the center for having created more than one hundred green jobs in the state of California since 2008.