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Nanoparticals May Have Bigger Impact on the Environment Than Previously Thought

The following was posted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on October 9, 2019. The important work that this article describes is being done by the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. Augsburg’s Associate Professor of Chemistry, Vivian Feng, is a member of the research team.


Research brief: Nanoparticles may have bigger impact on the environment than previously thought

First-of-its-kind study shows that non-antibacterial nanoparticles can cause resistance in bacteria.


Over the last two decades, nanotechnology has improved many of the products we use every day from microelectronics to sunscreens. Nanoparticles (particles that are just a few hundred atoms in size) are ending up in the environment by the ton, but scientists are still unclear about the long-term effects of these super-small nanoparticles.

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have shown that nanoparticles may have a bigger impact on the environment than previously thought. The research is published in Chemical Science, a peer-reviewed journal f the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Researchers from the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, led by scientists at the University of Minnesota, found that a common, non-disease-causing bacteria found in the environment, called Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, developed rapid resistance when repeatedly exposed to nanoparticles used in making lithium ion batteries, the rechargeable batteries used in portable electronics and electric vehicles. Resistance is when the bacteria can survive at higher and higher quantities of the materials, which means that the fundamental biochemistry and biology of the bacteria is changing.

“At many times throughout history, materials and chemicals like asbestos or DDT have not been tested thoroughly and have caused big problems in our environment,” said Erin Carlson, a University of Minnesota chemistry associate professor in the University’s College of Science and Engineering and the lead author of the study. “We don’t know that these results are that dire, but this study is a warning sign that we need to be careful with all of these new materials, and that they could dramatically change what’s happening in our environment.”

Carlson said the results of this study are unusual because typically when we talk about bacterial resistance it is because we’ve been treating the bacteria with antibiotics. The bacteria become resistant because we are trying to kill them, she said. In this case, the nanoparticles used in lithium ion batteries were never made to kill bacteria.

This is the first report of non-antibacterial nanoparticles causing resistance in bacteria.

In the past, many studies in the field exposed bacteria to a large dose of nanoparticles and observed if the bacteria died. This study was different because it looked at what happens over a more extended period of time to test how the bacteria might adapt over multiple generations when continually exposed to the nanoparticles. The bacteria were clearly able to take higher and higher doses of these materials over time without dying.

“Even though a nanoparticle may not be toxic to a microbe, it can still be dangerous,” said Stephanie Mitchell, a University of Minnesota chemistry graduate student and lead graduate student on this study.

Carlson warns that the results of this study go far beyond just bacteria.

“This research is very important to humans because bacteria are prevalent in our lakes and soil where there is a delicate balance of organisms. Other organisms feed on these microbes and there could be a major effect up the food chain or these resistant bacteria could have other effects we can’t even predict right now.”

Carlson said the researchers will continue follow-up studies to determine the effects of other human-made nanomaterials on other organisms in the environment and the long-term effects.

“Research that both advances technology and sustains our environment is a priority for the Division of Chemistry,” said Michelle Bushey, program director for the Chemical Centers for Innovation Program at the National Science Foundation. “This work reveals unexplored and long-term impacts that some nanoparticles have on the living organisms around us. This discovery at the chemistry-biology interface is a first step toward developing new sustainable materials and practices, as well as providing the groundwork for possible remediation approaches.”


In addition to Carlson and Mitchell, other lead researchers on the study include University of Minnesota Chemistry Professor Christy Haynes, Augsburg University Chemistry Associate Professor Z. Vivian Feng, and University of Wisconsin-Madison Chemistry Professor Robert Hamers, the director of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. Others on the research team include University of Minnesota researchers Natalie Hudson-Smith, Meghan Cahill, and Benjamin Reynolds; Augsburg University researchers Seth Frand and Rodrigo Tapia Hernandez; and University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Curtis Green and Chenyu Wang.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation through the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, an NSF Center for Chemical Innovation.

To read the full research paper, visit the Chemical Science website.




Emma Gustafson at the Santa Fe Opera

Emma Gustafson, a current Augsburg senior in the Theater Department, has spent the last two summers in the internship of her dreams: building and styling wigs for the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico. A competitive apprenticeship for young theatre designers and technicians, this opportunity was a once in a lifetime experience for Emma. I asked her to share her thoughts on this incredible step into the real world of theatre. 

Photos pictured here and more can be found on Emma’s Instagram.

Wig styled by Emma Gustafson for Boheme at the Santa Fe Opera

Could you describe a typical day at the Santa Fe Opera?

“Days are long at the Santa Fe Opera– 6 days a week, sometimes 12 hour days, but every minute is worth it! You get to work full time doing what you love and your opportunity for growth is immeasurable! It’s like bootcamp for your craft, but in the beautiful high-desert and with an on-campus pool.

“As a Wigs Apprentice, I spent my days building, coloring, cutting, and styling wigs, facial hair, and other hair pieces. The nights were spent running shows–each night is a different opera and there are always 5 in rotation for the entire summer! While running a show, I would be responsible for putting wigs and makeup on singers and assisting with backstage changes or quick changes.”

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

“My biggest takeaway was simply the craft itself, the Santa Fe Opera gave me the opportunity to work with some of the best-of-the-best in such a niche industry.”

What are some ways that the Augsburg Theater department prepared you for this internship?

“Having amazing mentors and teachers such as Sarah Bahr, who helped me find and land this job, and Michael Burden who encouraged me to work professionally and me taught about the stagecraft of theater, I was able to go into SFO (nervous, yes, but) confident enough with background knowledge to engage with a professional and prestigious company.”

More about Emma:

As a Theater Design and Technical major and Graphic Design minor in the Class of 2020, Emma plans to begin working in the theater industry in the area of Hair, Makeup and Wigs as a designer, run-crew, and wig builder after graduation. She is also the student director in Augsburg’s 2019-2020 season; she will be directing “Quake” by Melanie Marnich–to be performed in January/February 2020!

Emma at work; photo taken by Jessi Rogers




This post was written and contributed by Jenny Moeller, Administrative Assistant to the Art, Communication Arts, and Theater Departments. Thanks, Jenny and Emma!

The Augsburg University Greenhouse: Final Friday Flower Hour

This blog entry was contributed by Dr. Leon van Eck, Assistant Professor of Biology and Hagfors Greenhouse Curator.

The Augsburg University Greenhouse is located on the 4th floor of the Hagfors Center. It is a little over 500 square feet in size, but is packed with sophisticated technology. The climate is computer-controlled through an Argus Control System, which allows for automatic control of the lighting, the heating and cooling systems, and the shade curtain. The only thing we don’t control automatically is the watering, and that’s because of the diverse needs of our growing plant collection. Over the past year as Assistant Professor and Hagfors Greenhouse Curator, I have collected together over 250 different plant species to support research and teaching activities in the Biology Department. These plants span the gamut, from delicate mosses and ferns, tropical vines and orchids, carnivorous plants, to food plants not typically seen in Minnesota, like pineapple and papaya. Students enrolled in BIO361 Plant Biology get the opportunity to get up close with these plants and flex their botany skills. A highlight this semester has been the flowering of the voodoo lily (Amorphophallus konjac), a slightly smaller (and even smellier!) relative of the infamous titan arum.

Dr. Leon van Eck

Our plant collection focuses on crop wild relatives, those species of plants that are closely related to familiar plants like tomato and barley, but that harbor useful traits such as resistance to drought and disease not found in the commercial cultivars. These plants are of particular interest as we think ahead to sustainably feeding a growing population in the face of climate change. Another focus of our collection is the biodiversity of the Horn of Africa. Since Augsburg University is in the heart of a vibrant Northeast African community, we are well-positioned to showcase the amazing, important, and threatened plants from that part of the world. This includes some striking succulent species, as well as plants like frankincense and myrrh, specimens of which are currently thriving on the rooftop of the Hagfors Center.

Student Worker, Jacob Klinger

The greenhouse has recently obtained a vertical gardening system, which we installed and planted up over the summer, to have a lush green wall and even more opportunities to get students excited about plants. This wall features many cliff-dwelling species, including an impressive collection of rainforest cacti.

The Plant Growth Facilities at Augsburg not only house the Biology Department’s permanent plant collections, but are also a place of active science. Students conduct original URGO-sponsored research on trichome density and the microbiomes of Minnesota-native wild strawberries, study the disease resistance genomics of barley, and conduct experiments on plant community interactions for BIO481 Ecology. There are many opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in the plant sciences, right here in the Hagfors Center!

Dr. van Eck with Student Worker, Jacob Klinger

My current favorite plant in our collection? A spiny succulent called Edithcolea grandis, which produces large flowers patterned like a Persian carpet. This exotic relative of the humble milkweed is named after the intrepid female botanist Edith Cole, who collected it in the mountains of northern Somalia in 1895. It is these kinds of evocative stories that can really bring the world of botany alive in people’s imaginations, and help me in my mission to show people how fascinating and important the plant kingdom can be.

If you’d like to know what we’ve got “growing on”, and see the plant collection in person, the doors of the Hagfors Greenhouse are open to the Augsburg community on the last Friday of every month for Final Friday Flower Hour. Greenhouse staff will be available to showcase our plant collections and research projects from noon to 2PM. I hope you’ll discover a new favorite species. 

– Dr. Leon van Eck,
Assistant Professor, Biology Department
Hagfors Greenhouse Curator

3D Printing Food with Noah Aleshire

Augsburg Physics Major and Summer Researcher, Noah Aleshire, has been hard at work conducting investigations into the science of 3D printing food. After seeing a number of intriguing Twitter posts from Physics Professor, Ben Stottrup, I asked Noah to provide some information about himself and his work for the new Arts and Sciences blog. 

The photos included all came from Professor Stottrup’s posts.

Noah Aleshire with his research poster.

What made you want to research 3D printing food?

“I think this project stemmed from (Professor) Stottrup’s interest in food science and my interests in mechanical engineering. I expressed interest in using 3D printing to help me explore high-powered rocketry for my aerospace club, which sparked the idea of blending our interests and attempting to 3D print food. This would allow me to explore 3D printing while also helping advance Augsburg’s exploration of food science. Not to mention, broadening the “making” community by introducing the capability of printing various types of food pastes (frosting, chocolate, mashed potatoes, etc.). Having a printer that can print food will undoubtedly draw more students towards “making” and to food science. We also are thinking of collaborating with Campus Kitchen to host a few events that utilize/showcase our ability to print food by potentially printing designs on cakes or just designs that could be cooled and then placed onto a cake.

“The printers we got came as a DIY kit, so I spent over a week building and learning the intricate components. This allowed me to modify our printer, as needed, and design different methods of paste extrusion (I show my two major designs in the poster). Now having built a 3D printer (I also own one at home), I am currently building a CNC router for the shop downstairs.

How was your research funded?

“My work was funded by the generous donations of Dean and Amy Sundquist through Augsburg’s Department of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunities, while also funded by NASA’s Space Grant.” 

More About Noah:

  • He is President of Augsburg’s Society of Physics Students (Spring 2018 – Spring 2020) and President of Augsburg’s Unofficial Aerospace Club (a student-run subset of the Society of Physics Students).
  • He has a Level 1 High-Powered Rocketry certification through Tripoli, MN Rocketry Association (he can build and launch rockets of a certain class that generally go under 5,000 ft) and plans to go for Level 2 this school year (generally under 10,0000 ft).
  • This will be his senior year at Augsburg. He will graduate in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Minor in Mathematics.
  • He is applying for PhD programs in Aerospace Engineering this fall; PhD in Mechanical Engineering is his second consideration.
“One step closer to a chocolate 3D printer”, as captioned in Professor Stottrup’s tweet.


Augsburg Faculty Team Chosen for Competitive Active Learning in Science Seminar

Image: Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright
Image: Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright

(Minneapolis) – An Augsburg University faculty team was selected as one of 10 from a competitive, national pool of applicants to participate in a new program designed to prepare faculty members to adopt active learning methods proven to be successful in teaching science.

Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright  was the lead applicant and, along with Biology Lecturer Teresa Krause and Physics Department Chair Benjamin Stottrup, learned to implement new methods based on the research findings of Stanford University professor of physics and Nobel laureate Carl E. Wieman. These methods are designed to improve teaching effectiveness and student learning in biology, chemistry, and physics courses.

The summer 2019 seminar was offered by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and supported by a $300,000 grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation.

“The ability to think like a scientist is critical for all students, not just those who will major in STEM or plan to pursue an advanced degree,” said Richard Ekman, the CIC president. “Systematic change is needed to create the science-literate population needed to understand research-based science policy, which affects all aspects of today’s society.”

Although small colleges have long been recognized for the high percentages of their science majors who complete undergraduate degrees, earn advanced degrees, and enter STEM careers, this seminar marks the first systematic attempt to promote this powerful pedagogy among faculty members at smaller independent colleges and universities. Wieman provided the inspiration for and has been the guiding force in developing the seminars, recommending the facilitators, providing the syllabus, and shaping the process.

Despite numerous studies that have demonstrated improved effectiveness if instruction were changed from traditional lectures to more effective, active learning methods—in the sciences as in other fields—research indicates that the lecture is still the default method for many faculty members.

Each institution supported a team of four faculty members from no more than two disciplines (biology, chemistry, or physics), including at least one department or division chair or dean. The team received intensive training to prepare them to implement and assess research-based active learning methods in introductory courses in their departments when they return to campus.

The first seminar took place July 15–19, 2019, at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. After the seminar, college faculty members will participate in webinars, as well as conference calls and a site visit for each institution.

Contact: Gita Sitaramiah, director of PR and internal communications, 612-330-1476.

About Augsburg: Augsburg University offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and 10 graduate degrees to 3,400 students of diverse backgrounds at its campus in the vibrant center of the Twin Cities and nearby Rochester, Minnesota, location. Augsburg educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. An Augsburg education is defined by excellence in the liberal arts and professional studies, guided by the faith and values of the Lutheran church, and shaped by its urban and global settings. Learn more at

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) is an association of 770 nonprofit independent colleges and universities, state-based councils of independent colleges, and other higher education affiliates, that works to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of independent higher education’s contributions to society. CIC is the major national organization that focuses on services to leaders of independent colleges and universities and state-based councils. CIC offers conferences, seminars, publications, and other programs and services that help institutions improve educational quality, administrative and financial performance, student outcomes, and institutional visibility. It conducts the largest annual conferences of college and university presidents and of chief academic officers. Founded in 1956, CIC is headquartered at One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. For more information, visit