U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

USGS provides objective scientific information to: describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect Americans’ quality of life.

Research focus

USGS nanotechnology research involves the effects of nanoparticles at various levels of biological organization, from the molecular to ecosystem level. Much of USGS nanotechnology research focuses on assessing the occurrence, fate and effects of naturally-occurring and engineered chemical contaminants in the environment. Several programs provide information on nanoparticles or other contaminants, including the Contaminant Biology Program, the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, the National Research Program and the National Water Quality Assessment Program and the Water Resources Research Institutes.


USGS nanotechnology research primarily focuses on water quality, chemical transformation and degradation of nanoparticles, and toxicological effects on flora and fauna of nanoscale titanium dioxide and silver. USGS is testing new approaches to evaluate the toxicity of nanoparticles with metals that are used in consumer products such as zinc oxide in sunscreen or silver nanoparticles in textiles. In water quality, a USGS study examined the effects of nanosilver on the soil microbial community.  USGS studies on transformation and environmental fate of engineered nanoparticles build upon a long history of work in chemistry of colloids and other naturally occurring nanoparticles. USGS has found that certain bacteria can form nano-spheres of elemental selenium, nano-scaled Te(0), or nanoscale precipitates of ZnSe and CdSe. Some of these particles have optical properties with potential uses in nano-photonics or as optical limiters to protect the eyes from damage caused from exposure to lasers and other high-energy light. Bacteria produce these nano-materials at room temperature, so nano-synthesis using bacteria may prove to be a “green” approach that eliminates the need for high temperatures and pressures or the use of dangerous chemicals during synthesis. For more information, see Microbial Biogeochemistry of Aquatic Environments.