First impressions of the ICON EHS Database Analysis Tool
What do you do this holiday season when the turkey’s lost its appeal, you’ve seen every movie worth watching ten times over, and conversational déjà-vu sets in? If you are really desperate, you could play “nano-trivia”—and thanks to the fine folks at the International Council On Nanotechnology (ICON) you now have the perfect widget to help craft those cunning questions that will have your nearest and dearest wracking their brains.
Questions like “between 2000 and 2006, what percentage of scientific papers addressing the toxicity of carbon-based nanomaterials considered exposure via mucous membranes (or the skin)?”
OK, so maybe playing “toxic particle trivial pursuits” is the last resort of the desperate, and likely to result in an ever-decreasing circle of close friends. But for all that, the new ICON Environmental Health and Safety Database Analysis Tool has its merits... Most importantly, it provides a fascinating insight into how new knowledge on nanomaterial safety is progressing—or not, as the case may be.
Backtracking a little, the EHS Database Analysis Tool (lets just call it “the widget”) is an add-on to the ICON nanoEHS Virtual Journal. I'm a long-time fan of the Virtual Journal, which is probably the foremost repository of information on scientific papers addressing the potential health and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials. Established and maintained by ICON, it links to close-to every paper published that has some relevance to understanding and addressing the possible impacts of nanomaterials, and is an essential resource for anyone doing work in this area.
But those clever people down at Rice University didn’t just stop at cataloging the constant stream of publications coming out of researchers around the world. They went one step further and added some useful information—such as what material was studied in the published research, how it was studied, which aspects of hazard or risk were addressed, who the publication was aimed at, and so on.
And that opened up the way for “the widget.”
What the widget does is enable sophisticated searches on the database, and then displays the information graphically (as well as giving direct access to the source-paper records).
Imagine for a moment you are interested in the relative numbers of papers that have been published to date on different routes for carbon-based particles to get into the body—ingestion, inhalation, or through the skin or mucous membranes. Plug the desired information into a reasonably easy to use matrix on the widget’s web page, select a “Simple Distribution Analysis” plot for the years 1961 through to the end of 2008, and press “Generate Report.”
Hey presto, the widget creates a neat little pie chart clearly showing the requested information. (For the interested, across these three exposure routes and for the years and material in question, 86% of papers address inhalation, 11% dermal/mucous membrane penetration, and 3% ingestion).
This analysis gives you a sense of how research has balanced out over different areas over a number of years. But what if you want to know how things are changing—whether more is being published now on carbon nanoparticles for instance than was being published five years ago? You should not be surprised to hear that the widget can handle this also... (More...)