The International Council on Nanotechnology

Nanoinformatics: Making sense out of nanotechnology information

The broad area of research and development that can be accurately described under the umbrella term "nanotechnology" has undergone a breathtaking expansion since the inauguration of the National Nanotechnology Initiative nearly 10 years ago. With that expansion has come an enormous quantity and variety of data. Data about material properties, nanodevices, nanosystems, environmental, health and safety impacts, etc., continue to accumulate in various databases and information repositories. Understanding how best to organize, collate and increase the utility of these vast and diverse data sets is the goal of a new nanoinformatics project.
SOURCE: nanoinformatics.org

The field of informatics rests at the intersection among data, systems and people, and seeks to transform raw data into information that can then form new knowledge. Nanoinformatics is a name being applied to informatics as it relates to the data, systems and people engaged in nanotechnology research and development. To bring some cohesion to the nanotechnology researchers, informatics experts, government policy makers and other stakeholders potentially affected by nanoinformatics, a collaborative roadmapping workshop is being held this November in the Washington, DC area. More information about the workshop and the participating organizations can be found at Nanoinformatics 2010. The call for papers is still open.

Nano Safety Training Materials are on the Way--OSHA awards Susan Harwood Training Grant to Rice Team

I recently received word about the success of an OSHA Susan Harwood Targeted Topic Grant proposal I led to develop and deliver safety training modules and short courses for small-to-medium sized businesses that handle engineered nanomaterials. Ours was one of only 16 proposals out of a field of 168 submissions to succeed, and it garnered the largest award. It was also the only award to address the topic of nanotechnology. The full list of awardees can be found at the OSHA website.

This award builds on the work ICON has done with the GoodNanoGuide and enables our team to develop a set of training materials ranging from one-hour modules to an eight-hour short course that will equip trainers, employers and workers with the information and resources they need to work safely with nanomaterials. We will pilot these modules and short courses during the grant year at our partner institution, the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of Texas School of Public Health here in Houston and at select professional society meetings. Ultimately, the materials will be web-published for broader distribution.

Many thanks go out to the partners who worked with me to submit a winning proposal, especially:
Sarah Felknor and Amber Mitchell of The Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health
Bruce Lippy of The Lippy Group (co-author of the Nanotechnology and Hazardous Waste Worker Training paper)
Dominick Fazarro of University of Texas-Tyler
Walt Trybula of Texas State University-San Marcos
John Morawetz of the International Chemical Workers Union Center

US Department of Labor's OSHA awards $2.75 million in Susan Harwood Targeted Topic Training Grants for safety and health training

Nanotechnology and Public Health: A free webinar

Here is a long overdue link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Public Health Grand Rounds event “Preventing Adverse Health Effects from Nanotechnology” in which I participated in April. The link takes you to the CDC website where the whole 70-minute webinar can be viewed and downloaded. First a little about the PHGR from the CDC website.
The Public Health Grand Rounds is a monthly series created to further strengthen CDC’s common scientific culture and foster discussion and debate on major public health issues. Each session of the Public Health Grand Rounds will focus on key issues and challenges related to a specific health topic, including cutting-edge scientific evidence and potential impact of different interventions. The sessions will also highlight how CDC is already addressing these challenges and discuss the recommendations for future research and practice.
My invitation to participate came from the nanotechnology folks at NIOSH. Other panelists included Paul Schulte (NIOSH), Mark Hoover (NIOSH), Sally Tinkle (NIH/NIEHS), Vince Castranova (NIOSH) and Bill Hunt (GA Tech). I was asked to speak about global efforts in nanotechnology occupational safety.

I give dozens of talks every year but this was an atypical event for many reasons. First, this was a highly scripted event. My formal remarks and slides (which begin at about 41 minutes in) were scrutinized in advance at least three times and I was strongly encouraged to strip out all extraneous words, transitions and extemporaneous comments. This is not my usual style but was apparently needed to accommodate the diverse crowd and the very tight timeline. If you make it to the end, you'll get to the unscripted Q&A (right after my remarks) which was extensive and enlightening.

Second, not one but two institute directors were present. The PHGR are organized by and for CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden so naturally he was present. Coincidentally, NIH Director Francis S. Collins happened to be in Atlanta to meet with Dr. Frieden on other matters and was also in attendance. Both were very engaged and came up to the podium afterward to continue the conversation. It's not everyday that I get to address two institute directors about my favorite subject.

Finally, it's not uncommon when speaking at a facility to be offered a tour of some sort. However, it's not everyday that the facility tour includes the CDC global emergency response center (think NASA control room for ebola) AND the labs where the anthrax samples from the 2001 terrorist attacks were analyzed. Said tour was led by the head scientist in charge of the anthrax testing. Geek heaven!

Upcoming Webinar on Nano Safety

Interested in learning more about nanotechnology safety? Join me and four colleagues for a webinar hosted by Small Times. (Sorry about the registration fee, which I am assured is needed to pay for the cost of webcast and phone charges. I do not earn a fee for this gig.)

DATE: May 27, 2010
TIME (US): 1:00 PM ET | 12:00 PM CT | 10:00 AM PT

Understanding Nanotechnology Safety
This seminar is of interest to anyone concerned about the potential health hazards of exposure to nanoengineered materials. Workers may be exposed to nanomaterials in many different manufacturing environments, and this seminar will educate them on the real risks. The seminar is also designed to educate employers about what they need to know to ensure worker safety and what types of nano materials are of the most concern. Of significant interest to CEOs/CTOs of technology companies (SMEs), Health and Safety officers of technology companies (SMEs), Government officials (HSE), Toxicology experts, and venture capitalists.

Nano Blogs

This latest compilation of people or groups who blog about nanotechnology just crossed my desk today. The "Forward Thinking Blogs" compilation is grouped into categories based on the publisher. Categories include professionals, women, fans, specialty audiences and others. My Google Alert picked it up because this site is listed, as are the parent ICON site and my personal NanoRisk blog. While I might quibble with some of the categorizations, e.g., a news aggregator is not the same thing as a blog, the list has many of the blogs I read regularly. Noticeably absent are other favorites, including 2020science, nanoclast and TNTlog, to name a few. Nonetheless, this list is a good place to start if you're looking for news and commentary on nanotechnology.

Why Don't Scientists Submit Post-Peer-Review Comments?

When we were setting up the rating system at the Virtual Journal of Nano-EHS there was much hand-wringing about what such a system would do to the credibility of our organization and to academic discourse in general. Many within our advisory group hoped such a system would allow non-experts to get a better sense of the expert community's opinions about the quality of papers in this new field, which has been recognized to be somewhat uneven. But some prominent academics passionately argued that opening up the vast database to user comments would devolve into the kind of petty mudslinging, anonymous attacks and overall lack of civility one can find on other sites where public comments are permitted.

It turns out neither group has seen its hopes or fears realized. In the nearly 9 months since we implemented a system wherein one can rate a paper between 1-5 stars and provide a comment as an option, 34 ratings have been submitted on 33 papers in a database that now includes over 3800 papers. Nineteen of those ratings had comments attached. The ICON database is by no means unique in the under-usage of its rating and commenting functions.

This analysis of the usage of public commenting functions at three major scientific repositories, Public Library of Science (PLoS), BioMed Central (BMC) and BMJ, found that whereas commenting is widespread in newspaper articles, blogs, consumer websites and many other internet sites, scientists don't seem all that interested in commenting on scientific publications. The promised followup post sharing insights into why this might be has not yet been published but commenters to the original analysis shared some of their thoughts. Among the reasons cited were the disconnect between how scientists read papers (saved pdfs) vs. where the comments reside (online), the availability of other social networking tools for indicating approval or disapproval such as FriendFeed and Digg; and even the inherent flaws in rating processes.

In looking through the ratings at our site, I am gratified to see that the people who chose to leave comments for the most part provided brief but specific analyses of the merits or shortcomings of the rated paper. There appears to be no pent-up desire among the nano-EHS community to abuse our forum in inappropriate ways. But is there an unmet need for people to assess nano-EHS papers post-peer-review? If so, what other mechanisms should we consider employing? Feedback is welcome.

[Hat tip to @materialsdave for retweeting @solidstateux on the blog posting that prodded me to write this.]

New GoodNanoGuide Slideshow

Check out the latest SlideShare Presentation on the GoodNanoGuide.