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 smaller 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 provide 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’s Joann’s Picks column on the Gateway will feature three nanotechnology lessons for a range of ages. Peggy’s Corner discusses how to incorporate real world applications into science classes and how to encourage your students to research new technology that relates to science topics. In addition, we will also be featuring many more lessons, activities, and resources on nanotechnology on the Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook so you don’t miss anything.
Discussions will continue on last week’s theme on World Religion on both pages. All of the weekly Gateway columns and resource selections are archived on the following blog site: http://thegatewayto21stcenturyskills.blogspot.com/.
Resources covered in this week’s columns include:
Sugar Crystal Challenge
Subjects: Physical science, Math
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 TryNano.org, a site for students, their parents, their teachers and their school counselors. Try Nano was created jointly by IEEE, IBM, and the New York Hall of Science for the benefit of the public.
Introduction to Nanotechnology Lesson Plan
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
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.
About The Gateway to 21st Century Skills
The Gateway has been serving teachers continuously since 1996. It is the oldest publicly accessible U.S. repository of educational resources on the Web and the oldest continuously operating service of its kind in the world. The Gateway is sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA) and supported by over 700 quality contributors. The Gateway to 21st Century Skills is the cornerstone of the Global Learning Resource Connection (GLRC) which is a JES & Co. program.
About Joann Wasik- Author of Joann’s Picks
Joann is the Metadata Cataloger for The Gateway for 21st Century Skills. Her primary responsibilities for The Gateway include locating and cataloging standards-based K-12 lessons and activities for The Gateway, as well as writing the “Joann’s Picks” weekly column. Before joining The Gateway in 2006, Joann had been involved with numerous projects at the Information Institute of Syracuse at Syracuse University, including virtual reference with the Virtual Reference Desk (VRD) project; virtual reference competencies and education with the Digital Reference Education Initiative (DREI) project; and metadata cataloging with the Gateway for Educational Materials (GEM). Her previous experience also includes technology training and positions in academic libraries. She also conducts freelance research for business and educational clients. Joann holds B.A. and M.A.T. degrees in English from Boston College, and an M.L.S. degree from Syracuse University.
About Peggy James- Author of Peggy’s Corner
Peggy received her B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from The University of Arizona, and continued on to earn her M.Ed. from the U of A as well. She has taught Physical Science and Chemistry at the high school level. She is working toward her endorsement in Gifted Education, and has been actively involved in coaching and volunteering in Odyssey of the Mind and Academic Decathlon. She has a passion for teaching critical thinking and creativity in the classroom. She has done work evaluating and aligning lesson plans to standards as a curriculum consultant with the National Education Association Health Information Network. She is very excited to help create a collaborative environment for educators to discover new resources that will enhance their teaching!
About the GLRC
About JES & Co.
JES & Co., a publicly funded 501(c) (3) education research organization, is a leader in research and deployment of education programs based on open standards. With 20 years of experience in interoperability and portability of educational resources, organizations around the world come to JES & Co. for leadership and guidance on education programs and initiatives. Since its establishment in the early 1990s, JES & Co. has led and managed The Achievement Standards Network (ASN), The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, The Gateway to 21st Century Skills (formerly known as GEM), the Dell Academy, the Intel Student Certification Program, and Microsoft’s Partners in Learning. For more information about JES & Co. or the Global Learning Resource Connection, visit www.JESandCo.org.