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Rice UniversityCBEN
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology

Center Vision

Transforming Nanotechnology into a Tool to Solve Real-World Problems

 CBEN flag
CBEN’s mission is to discover and develop nanomaterials that enable new medical and environmental technologies.

The mission is accomplished by the following:

  • Fundamental examination of the ‘wet/dry’ interface between nanomaterials, complex aqueous systems, and ultimately our environment (Theme 1).
  • Engineering research that focuses on multifunctional nanoparticles that solve problems in environmental and biological engineering (Themes 2, 3).
  • Educational programs that develop teachers, students, and citizens who are well informed and enthusiastic about nanotechnology.
  • Innovative knowledge transfer that recognize the importance of communicating nanotechnology research to the media, policymakers, and the general public.

This mission is inspired by the observation that because of their small size and unique properties, nanomaterials interact with and control biological systems in entirely new ways. Our research exploits these novel capabilities to develop innovative biomedical and environmental technologies. To ensure that our technologies flourish, our outreach addresses broader issues such as technology transfer, public acceptance, and workforce training.

 The Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology fosters the development of this field through an integrated set of programs that aim to address the scientific, technological, environmental, human resource, commercialization, and societal barriers that hinder the transition from nanoscience to nanotechnology.


The Center's research focuses on investigating and developing nanoscience at the "wet/dry" interface. Water, the most abundant solvent present on Earth, is of unique importance as the medium of life. The Center's research activities explore this interface between nanomaterials and aqueous systems at multiple length scales, including interactions with solvents, biomolecules, cells, whole-organisms, and the environment. These explorations form the basis for understanding the natural interactions that nanomaterials will experience outside the laboratory, and also serves as foundational knowledge for designing biomolecular/nanomaterial interactions, solving bioengineering problems with nanoscale materials, and constructing nanoscale materials useful in solving environmental engineering problems.


Given the goal of transforming nanoscience into a strong, vital discipline, the Center must draw new talent into the field. Educational outreach efforts develop programs to identify, recruit, and train the nanoscience workforce of the future. As a centerpiece program, 9th grade teachers in the minority-rich Houston school district are being trained to engage in the more successful but challenging discovery-based teaching style. The Center provides content lectures and tutoring to these educators and offers a meaningful experience in research laboratories. These teachers also identify students to participate in a Center science academy. New curriculum and textbook development, a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and research in Center-funded laboratories extend the Center's educational outreach activities to the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Industrial Connections

In addition to a more traditional industrial affiliates program, the Center embraces the increasing importance of small and startup companies in high technology development by partnering with Rice's Jones Graduate School of Management in an entrepreneurial education program. This provides Center members with the skills needed for the more active interactions such organizations demand, and through associated activities brings scientists, students and business experts together to ensure the formation of successful startups based on Center research. Our interactions with industry have led us to understand that among the greatest barriers to successful commercialization of nanotechnology are concerns over safety, environmental impact, and public education. In addition to our scientific research in these areas, CBEN is addressing these issues more comprehensively through ICON, the International Council on Nanotechnology, a broad-based coalition including representatives of industrial, governmental, academic, and public concerns.