A Publication of the
Applied Math and Science Education Repository

The AMSER Science Reader Monthly aims to provide educators with a useful package of information about a particular topic related to applied math and science by combining freely available articles from popular journals with curriculum, learning objects, and web sites from the AMSER portal. The AMSER Science Reader Monthly is free to use in the classroom and educators are encouraged to contact AMSER with suggestions for upcoming issues or comments and concerns at info@amser.org.

This month's AMSER Science Reader Monthly topic is Nanotechnology.

Can Nanotechnology Save Lives?
Article by Michael Rosenwald
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell

article photos

The world of nanotechnology is quite small. Not in terms of actual intellectual breadth or creativity, but by mere definition. Nanotechnology is the science of structures measuring between 1 nanometer (or a billionth of a meter) and 100 nanometers. The potential applications for nanotechnology have grown in recent years, and institutions and organizations around the world are trying to capitalize on new advances in this particular branch of science.

This article by Michael Rosenwald from the August 2010 edition of Smithsonian magazine profiles the work of Harvard Professor George Whitesides. Whitesides teaches chemistry and his work in the fields of biology, engineering, physiology, materials science, physics, and nanotechnology over the past several decades has been prolific. Through a discussion of Whitesides' discoveries, patents, and research, Rosenwald examines the science of nanotechnology and the consumer projects currently available that make use this type of technology. Whitesides' latest project, the so-called "lab on a chip," is the size of a postage stamp, designed to diagnose a variety of ailments with the precision of a high-tech laboratory. This device will allow health workers in the developing world to use a patient's blood or urine to detect one out of 16 of the most common ailments. Potentially, the health worker may be able to then send a photo of the stamp with a cellphone to a doctor for a tentative diagnosis.

The article goes on to discuss future nanotech projects, which may include ultrasensitive devices to detect oil, particles that can deliver medicine to kill a tumor, and batteries that could last months and power electric cars. In the final part of the article, Whitesides considers the direction of his own work and nanotechnology, "What I want to do is solve problems. And if nano is the right way of solving the problem, I'll use that. If something else is the right way, I'll use that." At the end of the article, readers will also find related links and a photo gallery to supplement the story.

Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and enhance understanding of the topics found within this article. The first link will take visitors to Nanowerk, which includes up-to-date news about nanotechnology, nanotech resources, and job opportunities in the field. The second link leads to a great 10-minute video which can be used by educators to introduce students to nanotechnology. Moving on, the third link leads to a lesson from the NanoEd Resource Portal. The module teaches students about the interesting science that happens at the nanoscale, the tools used by scientists to study objects so small, and the potential applications of discoveries made in nanotechnology. The fourth link whisks users away to a site provided by the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, which explains how nanotechnology is used in products like pants and tennis balls. The fifth link leads to Live Science's page on Nanotechnology, which details the future benefits that nanotechnology research could serve including advances in telecommunications, information technology, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. The final link leads visitors to an online activity on the cell membrane and nanotechnology created by the Wisconsin Online Resource Center.

The world of nanotechnology and its related applications is growing quickly, and there are a number of websites that are dedicated to keeping up with developments in the field. This site falls into that very category, as it contains links to recent news stories about the field, coupled with a database containing nanotechnology-related links to universities, research labs and institutes, and associations. Those who might be new to the world of nanotechnology will want to browse on over to the "Introduction to Nanotechnology" section. Here they will find short pieces on the significance of the nanoscale, nanomaterial science, and its current (and future) applications. The site also contains a career center, a newsletter, and various social media links to keep you up-to-date.
Nanotechnology Takes Off
This 10-minute video discusses the "nanotech boom in Berkeley, where researchers are working to unlock the potential of nanoscience." The video is produced by QUEST, a KQED multimedia production, and can be shown in class or embedded. Also on the page is an educator's guide to be used with the video that can help provide new ways of exploring size and scale with your students. In addition, visitors will find links to related articles and videos and an additional educator's guide to Nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology Module
This resource is provided by the NanoEd Resource Portal, and is one of a number of nano lessons provided on the site. This lesson is "The Nanotechnology Module", which is a joint project with the Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University. The module teaches students about the interesting science that happens at the nanoscale, the tools used by scientists to study objects so small, and the potential applications of discoveries made in nanotechnology. Activity 1 introduces the concept of nanometer, asking, "Just how small is a nanometer?" and "How does the size of something determine its physical and chemical properties?" To give students an idea of the different technological developments that are in existence in the "Nano-World," in Activity 2, they are asked to choose a nanoscale object from a list of examples and research its properties and current and future uses. In Activity 3, students create a macroscale model of what scientists do at the nanoscale with masking technology. Such a technique could be applied to create nanoscale circuitry, for example. Activity 4 looks at the challenges of signal amplification that one faces when working with nanoscale objects. The challenge in the culminating design project is to design, build, test, and evaluate a working model of an atomic force microscope (AFM), a valuable instrument scientists use to "see" nanoscale objects. Although research efforts in nanotechnology are still in the preliminary stages, the discoveries have the potential to significantly impact the fields of medicine, electronics, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and materials science, among others.
Nanoproducts Guides, Worksheets and Activity Pages
Published by the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, this set of activities and lessons helps students explore the impact of nanotechnology in their own lives by examining products, from pants to tennis balls, which employ nanotechnology in various ways. On this site, visitors will find a teacher's preparatory guide, student guide, a career activity, resource guide, presentation, and eighteen activity sheets each highlighting a single nanotechnology-enhanced product. The activity sheets describe the product, its particular application of nanotechnology, how it works, how the technology might otherwise be used, and definitions of important words. This site presents an excellent way to examine nanotechnology and its many real-life applications in students' lives.
LiveScience Topic: Nanotechnology
So what is nanotechnology, you ask? Nanotechnology is defined as the science and technology of building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules, or the branch of engineering that deals with things smaller than 100 nanometers. This site details the future benefits that nanotechnology research could serve including advances in telecommunications, information technology, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. For additional information on nanotechnology, what it consists of, as well as nanotech's current and future impacts on the world of science, simply select any nanotechnology article or other interactive feature.
The Cell Membrane and Technology
This activity is from the Wisconsin Online Resource Center, a digital library of web-based learning resources called learning objects. Barbara Liang created this resource, and it examines nanotechnology applications that are based on cell membrane structure and function. The brief activity contains animated illustrations and interactives that help students grasp nanotechnology concepts.

AMSER Science Reader Monthly is published by Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in conjunction with the National Science Digital Library with funding from the National Science Foundation. If you have questions or suggestions please e-mail us at info@amser.org.