VT KnowledgeWorks Success Showcase: NanoSafe

VT KnowledgeWorks encourages and enables creative entrepreneurship world-wide, through innovative curriculum, local business resource centers, and a global network of cooperating regions, all focused on three essential contributors to success: clear understanding of fundamental business principles; access to timely, relevant information; and meaningful personal and corporate relationships. It is a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Foundation, funded through the continuing confidence and enthusiasm of its clients, sponsors and friends, both corporate and individual. Its world headquarters are located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

VT KnowledgeWorks Success Showcase: NanoSafe

Company's Full Name: NanoSafe, Inc.

Year Founded: 2007

Year Company Entered VT KnowledgeWorks: 2007

Total Number of Employees When Entered: 1 part-time

Total Number of Employees to Date: 1 full-time, 8 part-time, 1 contractor

Overview of Company’s Products/Services, and Significance to the Market

NanoSafe, Inc. helps organizations manage nanotechnology environmental health and safety (EHS) risks. The company offers a full range of consulting, research, and testing services to clients throughout industry, state and federal government agencies, and university laboratories.  NanoSafe, Inc.’s flagship service offering is its NanoSafe Tested™ program, which is a third-party test and verification process that enhances the safety of nanotechnology-enabled consumer products and nanomanufacturing. 

Company Accomplishments

  • Launched NanoSafe Tested™ program and companion Nanotech Register™; tested and registered first product, the Labconco XPert™ Nano laboratory enclosure.
  • Awarded multi-year contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) to support nanoecotoxicology research and compilation of a nanoinformatics database.
  • Awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the U.S. Air Force to develop a nanotechnology 3D Periodic Table™ for relating nanoparticle properties to toxicological outcomes.
  • Established a new nanotechnology laboratory facility with dedicated pilot-scale nanomanufacturing, integration, and characterization capabilities.


Matthew S. Hull, Ph.D.
President/Owner, NanoSafe, Inc.
1800 Kraft Drive, Suite 107
Blacksburg, VA 24060
Office: 540.443.9287
Toll Free: 1.877.SAF.NANO
Fax: 1.877.836.1132
Mobile: 540.449.3388


VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, The Branch Group, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Hutchison Law Group, LeClairRyan, New River Valley Intellectual Property Law, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).

NanoSafe Makes Amazon.com’s Hot New Releases List

A version of this post originally appeared on Handshake 2.0 in its Tech Showcase.

According to Amazon.com's Hot New Releases in Nanotechnology, what's hot is Nanotechnology Environmental Health and Safety: Risks, Regulation and Management, co-edited by Matthew Hull and Diana Bowman.  Hull founded NanoSafe, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company headquartered in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Matt Hull of Nanosafe speaking on nanotechnology safety in Sydney, Australia How hot is nanotechnology safety?  So hot, nanotechnology environmental health and safety (EHS) even has its own acronym – nanoEHS – and many federal agencies and international councils are intensely focused on its study.

Handshake 2.0 asked Matthew Hull why nanotechnology is hot and why we need to read this book.  He kindly replied:

Nanotechnology Environmental Health and Safety: Risks, Regulation and Management was assembled to target a broad audience including organizational safety managers, corporate executives, insurers and risk managers, nanotech investors, and students, all of whom are interested in a holistic perspective on nanotech environmental health and safety (EHS) risks, the current regulatory landscape, and emerging risk management strategies.  These are all areas where stakeholders have expressed concerns about the limited information available. 

Ultimately, the growth trajectory of commercial nanotechnology hinges on how well we identify and manage known as well as unknown risks, so a resource like this book is especially timely.  Newcomers to the nanotech EHS debate will find that they can pick up this book and, in a pretty short time, have a strong understanding of not only the risks of nanotechnology, but ways that society can manage those risks and effectively capitalize on the benefits of nanoscale materials.  More seasoned readers will appreciate the opportunity to delve into unique perspectives and detailed accounts of key nanotech EHS milestones offered by some familiar names that have helped shape the nanotech risk management landscape.

Nanotechnology Environmental Health and Safety by Matthew Hull and Diana Bowman We believe that a real strength of Nanotechnology Environmental Health and Safety is that it offers unique perspectives on the nano EHS issue that have not been incorporated in other texts.  For example, one chapter written by a labor union representative, who represents workers impacted by the asbestos industry, provides a passionate charge to the nanotechnology community to apply lessons learned from asbestos to ensure the safety of emerging nanomaterials.  Another chapter provides an objective and detailed scientific review of nanoparticle toxicology and characterization.   Other chapters offer reviews of the global regulatory landscape, emerging legal frameworks, the insurance industry perspective on managing unknown risks, and case studies on how to effectively manage nano EHS risks in a range of organizational settings, from academia to large corporations. 

If, as a society, we are to enjoy the benefits that nanotechnology offers, we have a responsibility to make sure of its safety. Our book contributes to that effort.


NanoSafe, Inc. helps nanotechnology organizations navigate emerging environmental health and safety (EHS) issues.  NanoSafe, Inc. offers consulting, testing, and research and development services designed to accommodate a broad range of client needs.  Founded in 2007 by Matthew Hull, NanoSafe is headquartered in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and is a member company of VT KnowledgeWorks business acceleration center in Blacksburg, Virginia.  Here's more about NanoSafe on Inside VT KnowledgeWorks.


VT KnowledgeWorks is a unique growth enhancement program open to entrepreneurs in the New River Valley of Virginia and beyond.  Acceleration center and incubation facilities are located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia

VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Latimer, Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, LeClairRyan, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).

Workers Should Expect to Return Home Safely from Work – Nano or Otherwise

From Reuters, August 19, 2009:

Seven young Chinese women suffered permanent lung damage and two of them died after working for months without proper protection in a paint factory using nanoparticles, Chinese researchers reported on Wednesday.

They said the study is the first to document health effects of nanotechnology in humans, although animal studies in the past have shown nanoparticles could damage the lungs of rats.

"These cases arouse concern that long term exposure to nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs," Yuguo Song from the occupational disease and clinical toxicology department at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing wrote in the European Respiratory Journal.

But a U.S. government expert said the study was more a demonstration of industrial hazards than any evidence that nanoparticles pose more of a risk than other chemicals.

For help in dealing with and understanding this troubling news related to nanotechnology, we asked Matthew Hull, founder of NanoSafe, Inc., a VT KnowledgeWorks member company, for his expertise.

Matthew Hull replied:

I offer four key points:

  1. It's unclear whether the deaths of these young women can be attributed to unique nanoscale hazards or poor working conditions.
  2. At the end of the day, workers should expect to return home safely from any workplace – nano or otherwise.
  3. More conventional workplace hazards cannot be overlooked in nanotech workplaces.
  4. The United States has an excellent system in place to protect workers; US research organizations such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, have taken a leading role globally in ensuring the safety of nanotech workplaces.

The workplace, whether it's designed for nanomanufacturing or more conventional purposes, should be a safe environment – one that you return home from safely at the end of each workday.  And it's just a terrible tragedy that these individuals lost their lives while working in a facility where they should expect to be kept safe.

What could worsen this situation, however, is that a rush to attribute these individuals' deaths to an engineered nano-culprit could obscure hazards created by underlying occupational health and safety problems.  For example, the article notes that the workplace was poorly ventilated – this is a major problem whether you're working with nanoscale particles or common household cleaners.  The emerging consensus is that this facility simply did not meet even basic safety requirements.

Amidst all of the questions surrounding nanotechnology environmental health and safety, it's easy to forget that nanotech workplaces actually have many conventional hazards, too.  These hazards can stem from basic work practices such as solvent usage or processes requiring high voltage, intense pressures, or elevated temperatures.  There is great interest in identifying unique nanoscale hazards in nanotech workplaces.  It is certainly important to identify such hazards and appropriate protective strategies as quickly as possible,  but in doing so, more conventional hazards should not be overlooked.

Nanomanufacturing is indeed a commercial reality.  Daily, unknown thousands of workers around the world venture into workplaces where they will manufacture metallic nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, quantum dots, and other such materials.  Ultimately, these materials will end up in sunscreens, cosmetics, photovoltaic devices, next-generation cancer therapeutics, lightweight armor for security personnel, and many other products that help improve the quality of our daily lives.  If as a society we are to enjoy the benefits that these materials offer, then we have a responsibility to make sure that the workplaces where they are produced are safe.


NanoSafe, Inc. helps nanotechnology organizations navigate emerging environmental health and safety (EHS) issues.  NanoSafe, Inc. offers consulting, testing, and research and development services designed to accommodate a broad range of client needs.  Founded in 2007 by Matthew Hull, NanoSafe is headquartered in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center's VT KnowledgeWorks business acceleration center in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Studying How “Green” Nanotechnology Can Be

Larval fish (the fathead minnow) used in a study of nanotoxicology by Matthew Hull et al. Matthew Hull, founder of NanoSafe, Inc., a VT KnowledgeWorks member company, was featured in a Nanowerk Spotlight, Nanowerk's "nanotechnology feature [that] looks behind the buzz and the hype…[to] what's new and hot around the globe."

The Nanowerk Spotlight, Not so 'green' nanotechnology manufacturing, explores the implications of the paper by Hull et al., Release of Metal Impurities from Carbon Nanomaterials Influences Aquatic Toxicity, on environmental impacts of impurities and byproducts associated with nanomanufacturing processes.

In their study, Hull and colleagues studied whether feedstock metals associated with the production of these materials can become mobilized and reach toxic concentrations in simulated aquatic systems.

Water flea (Ceriodaphnia dubia) used in nanotoxicology study by Matthew Hull et al. The photos, courtesy of Alan Kennedy, US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer and Research Development Center, show the two types of test organisms used in the study.  In the upper left is a larval fish (the fathead minnow) and to the right is a water flea (Ceriodaphnia dubia).

According to Matthew Hull, "As these results demonstrate, management of nanotechnology wastes will factor heavily into emerging nanomanufacturing activities.  Consequently, NanoSafe, Inc. has positioned itself to provide waste management solutions for generators of these wastes."


NanoSafe, Inc. helps nanotechnology organizations navigate emerging environmental health and safety (EHS) issues.  NanoSafe, Inc. offers consulting, testing, and research and development services designed to accommodate a broad range of client needs.  Founded in 2007 by Matthew Hull, NanoSafe is headquartered in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center's VT KnowledgeWorks Business Accelerator (Blacksburg, VA). 

VT KnowledgeWorks Stars Lead New River Valley Technology Sector

in his Roanoke Times article, Progression despite recession, 1/11/09, Jeff Sturgeon writes that "some companies are growing even though the overall economy is not…  Some companies…are bringing out products and services in support of other, innovative technologies."

From the New River Valley technology sector, Sturgeon cites NanoSafe and LimbGear, both of whom are member companies of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks.  The LimbGear® Noggin Net was featured on The Today Show.

Jeff Sturgeon's excellent, comprehensive profiles of both companies are quoted here:

NanoSafe Inc.

NanoSafe is pursuing a big idea in a small world — the nanosphere, made up of objects as small as a few billionths of a meter.

The Blacksburg company offers independent, third-party testing of nanotechnology products.

"We can quantify … safety," President Matt Hull said.

Nanomaterials are powerful and require safe handling. Objects behave differently when downsized to a few billionths of a meter. They may react more energetically to light, heat and electricity or become incredibly strong — creating opportunities as well as the risk of unintended consequences.

Nanoscale scientists already have spent two decades improving consumer goods. Examples include more protective sunscreen and harder, lighter baseball bats.

They foresee similar results in medicine, energy and drinking water.

As the industry expands, Hull, a Pulaski County native and graduate student at Virginia Tech, said he believes that users of nanoscale materials are looking for greater transparency around the potential environmental health and safety risks posed by their operations.

So Hull has built a service business in which he and scientists he recruits can perform research, testing and consulting for companies, government agencies and organizations seeking to use nanomaterials safely.

Much the way Underwriters Laboratory became the product safety testing company for a host of everyday products from fire extinguishers to microwave ovens, NanoSafe hopes to become a premier evaluator of nanotechnology products.

Recently, NanoSafe tested the containment properties of a laboratory fume hood — it's first product test — and gave the hood a passing grade. The maker, Labconco of Kansas City., Mo., is free to label the hood with NanoSafe's mark: a black N inside a pentagon.

Steve Gound, president of the laboratory equipment company, said the designation "is something we will promote as outside, independent verification of the performance of the product in our literature and advertising materials and reporting."

That's feedback welcomed by Hull, 30, who is studying for a doctorate degree in civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and who hopes, after he completes his degree, to take NanoSafe to the next level.


In spite of a recession that some fear could be severe, while many are hunkering down, Tyson Daniel of Roanoke quit a $73,000-a-year job as an attorney.

He's gone into business for himself. His venture, LimbGear, sells "MP3-enabled" apparel.

For starters, there's a $21.99 skullcap with a rear pouch for a small portable media player. For an additional $7.51, you get ear buds on a short wire that are held in place by the hat — a favorite of nationally known gadget guru Steve Greenberg, who plugged the Noggin Net on NBC's "Today Show" the week after Christmas.

LimbGear also is selling a $15.49 armband MP3 holder that comes in three sizes depending on bicep bulk. Both products are intended to interest people with an active lifestyle, the company says.

Daniel was asked what the six-employee enterprise must do in 2009.

"Generate revenue," he said.

WeighOut LLC, the parent company, does not release financial information.

He noted that in spite of the nation being in the middle of an economic storm with no end forecast, the audience of LimbGear is a large and growing population because of the huge popularity of personal electronic devices.

Apple, for one, said it has sold more than 150 million iPod portable media players.

Daniel, 37, is propelled by passion for nurturing something he created from scratch.

Plus, he had tired of the psychological demands of being a senior assistant capital defender in the Christiansburg-based Office of the Capital Defender for Southwest Virginia. He spent nearly five years representing people charged with capital murder, meaning, they were at risk of getting the death penalty.

Late last month, he moved the business from the basement of his Roanoke Valley home to the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

"This is not an opportunity that I want to pass up," Daniel said. 

The text above was quoted from Jeff Sturgeon's Roanoke Times article, Progression despite recession, 1/11/09.

Safe Nanotoys

At the cocktail parties I've attended lately, "Look at my new nanotechnology!" has not been said. But it may soon be.

If you google "nanotechnology next industrial revolution," the results are pages and pages of links to government papers, academic sites, and unknown others. Nanotechnology involves messing around with things on the atomic level.  How can the average person make sense of it?

According to How Stuff Works, "Nanotechnology is so new, no one is really sure what will come of it. Even so, predictions range from the ability to reproduce things like diamonds and food to the world being devoured by self-replicating nanorobots."

If a bit sensational, the nanorobot image invokes some of humankind's greatest fears: of the unknown, of the uncontrollable, of powerlessness of any kind.

For Matthew Hull, president of NanoSafe, Inc., helping companies harness the power of nanotechnology in accord with human and environmental health concerns is an area of both expertise and passion.

Hull believes research and development in nanotechnology have outpaced knowledge of environmental health and safety concerns. NanoSafe, Inc., one of the newest Member Companies of high-tech accelerator VT KnowledgeWorks, provides consulting, services, and products designed to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown.

On a recent visit to a friend's house, I watched her four-year-old son drop his snack bar on the floor. He reached for it, but she swooped for it, rinsed it, and returned it to her son before he had a moment to think whether he wanted his snack bar soggy or not. To protect her child from the unknown effects of the detritus created by two adults, three children, and two dogs, a mother's timing was in nanoseconds.

Matthew Hull and his company NanoSafe, Inc. seem equally timely. Whether it's adults or children exclaiming, "Look at my new nanotoy!", we need to know companies who created it did so safely.