Saturday, July 30, 2011

It’s a Small World After All

In the 1980s, a new branch of science emerged that seemed to be straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel. While the new science didn’t initially garner much attention from the general press or population, scientists and ethicists were all abuzz about nanotechnology. Despite some news items that occasionally crop up in the mainstream media, nanotechnology has quietly continued to evolve and impact our everyday lives. Unbeknownst to most people, the technology is used in many everyday objects, such as sunscreens, cosmetics, fabrics, eyeglass lenses, LCD screens, scratch-resistant car finishes, and much more.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter and the engineering of tiny machines on an atomic and molecular scale. The scale is extraordinarily small: one nanometer (or nanoscale) is one billionth of a meter, which is about 50,000 times small than the width of a human hair. The head of a common pin is about one millimeter in diameter, or the equivalent of one million nanometers, while a single human red blood cell is approximately 2,500 nanometers in size. Reducing objects to the nanoscale is an extremely complex science that offers a wide range of applications and potentially great benefits in the way of medicine, consumer products, and fuels. Many newer sunscreens, for example, contain nanoparticles of zinc or titanium oxide that allows them to spread more easily and reduce whitish residue on the skin. Fabrics that inhibit the penetration of UV rays are coated with thin layers of zinc oxide nanoparticles, while other fabrics contain nanoparticles that help resist stains or repel water. Clothing manufacturer Eddie Bauer, for instance, has used embedded nanoparticles to create stain- and wrinkle-resistant khaki pants. Nanoparticles allow for better absorption of diet and vitamin supplements by the body, and are used to manufacture lighter and stronger tennis rackets and golf clubs. Applications in development currently include edible, antimicrobial films that kill bacteria in packaged foods, and the injection of specially coated nanoparticles into a patient’s bloodstream to target cancerous cells. It’s a brave new world of extremely exciting, cool science.

Nanotechnology is not without its detractors, however. Some scientists and ethicists cite concerns regarding irresponsible molecular manufacturing, fearing possible toxicity, its unknown impact on the environment, and how it may be used by military groups worldwide. The applications and potential drawbacks of nanotechnology make it a ripe subject for many classrooms. While science classes are a natural place for nanotechnology lessons and activities, other subject areas can benefit as well. The nanometer scale can be used in math classes, and the societal implications of molecular manufacturing provides a great topic of discussion for English and social studies classrooms. Nanotechnology issues can also be incorporated into civics, ethics, and character education lessons.

This week, I’ve highlighted three nanotechnology lessons for a range of ages. I’ll be featuring many more lessons, activities, and resources on nanotechnology on our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check those pages regularly.

Sugar Crystal Challenge

Subjects: Physical science, Math

Grade: 3-8

This lesson explores how nanostructures can influence surface area, and how the sugar can be modified to different levels of coarseness without impacting molecular structure. Students work in teams and explore different states of sugar as it relates to surface area and molecular structure. This lesson was created by, a site for students, their parents, their teachers and their school counselors. TryNano was created jointly by IEEE, IBM, and the New York Hall of Science for the benefit of the public.

Introduction to Nanotechnology Lesson Plan

Grade: 6-8

This lesson plan was created to help middle school science teachers provide an introduction to nanotechnology in a classroom setting. Students learn about nanotechnology, its applications in the real world, and what could possibly happen in the future. This lesson was produced by Hawk's Perch Technical Writing, LLC, which produces books and education materials on engineering topics.

Nanofibers On Your Clothes

Subjects: Physical science

Grade: 9-12

The purpose of this activity is to compare the weight, and “feel” of nanofiber treated fabrics to both untreated and Scotchguard treated fabrics, as well as their susceptibility to stains from various sources. This activity is a product of the Center for Affordable Nanoengineering of Polymeric Biomedical Devices at Ohio State University, and develops polymer-based nanomaterials and nanoengineering technology. The Center also offers educational materials on nanotechnology for teachers and the public.

~Joann's Picks - July 27, 2011~

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