Exploring the Nanoworld > Programs > IPSE > Project Descriptions

Project Descriptions


Redesign of the Nanoworld Discovery Center

During the 2007-08 academic year, the IPSE team redesigned the Nanoworld Discovery Center, a stand alone exhibit on nanotechnology housed on the UW-Madison's College of Engineering campus to incorporate some best practices learned during the previous three years of the IPSE program and the UW MRSEC's involvement in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net). Changes made to the new exhibit included:

  • Major revisions of the text content were made to improve visitor comprehension;
  • Text font size on all components of the exhibit was increased to improve readability;
  • Topics were re-organized into two themes: Nano tools and Nano applications;
  • Four introductory panels were added, including a "Measure your height in nanometers" interactive; and
  • A time line of the nano-related research and discoveries was integrated.

Some of the initial components of the exhibit were carried over into the revised version of exhibit, like the ferrofluid interactive and the SPM/refrigerator magnet activity. Components from IPSE exhibits created during 2004-06 were incorporated, like reach-in boxes that encourage visitors to "be" a probe microscope and feel hidden surfaces.

To take a virtual tour of the Nanoworld Discovery Center, click here.

Programs for Younger Audiences

Many of the outreach activities created by the UW MRSEC IEG are best suited for late-elementary-school aged audiences and beyond. The IPSE team recognized a need for programming for engaging younger audiences in nanotechnology and asked the question: "How young can you go with nano?" Talking to young audiences can be very challenging-since elementary-aged children haven't learned about atoms and many still struggle with the concept that things can exist even though they aren't visible with our eyes. For programs targeted at this audience, interns distilled the key science concepts into language that would be more easily understood by a young child.

Carbon Nanotube Scavenger Hunt

In Fall 2007, interns developed an activity to show young visitors that nanotechnology is part of their everyday lives-and that science activities can be fun and exciting too. Images of consumer products containing carbon nanotubes (like batteries, concrete, bicycle frames, etc) were hidden. After a brief age-appropriate, interactive presentation about, children searched for the images and were tasked with sorting the images based on which special property of carbon nanotubes was being used in each product: super strength or the ability to conduct electricity.

Build a Nanotube Balloon Program

Previous IPSE teams developed a program that builds a carbon nanotube out of balloons. The balloon model is eye-catching and provides a great hook to draw visitors in to other programs. The 2007-08 team adapted this program to engage younger audiences, since young children would likely not fully grasp the talking points originally associated with the balloon programs. The new program aims to show:

  • Scientists use models to help them "see" and understand things too small to see with their eyes;
  • All models have strengths and weaknesses; and
  • The balloon structure is a model of a carbon nanotube, which is too small to see.

In this program, children help to build the large balloon scale structure. During the building process, which the children very much enjoyed, the program facilitators asked the children about other instances they have used or interacted with models.

Nanotube Littlething

One IPSE intern created a carbon nanotube cartoon character, named Nanotube Littlething. Initially intended as a comic book character, Nanotube Littlething (NTLT) is an anthropomorphized carbon nanotube. NTLT is an approachable and playful character for children to interact with, which consequently inspired a suite of several new activities. The storyline of the comic book follows NTLT on a walk, where he explores his size and laments that he is too small. A friendly atom shows NTLT that while he is small, he has great potential. Throughout the story, readers are introduced to the smallness of the nanoscale and everyday applications of nanotechnology. The story line and additional 'episodes' remain in development.

During the development of the story, the IPSE team developed two activities to introduce young audiences to NTLT: coloring pages and puppets. Several frames of the comic book were printed in black and white on 8.5"x11" paper and used as coloring sheets. The activities show children that:

  • Carbon nanotubes are very, very small (much smaller than hair);
  • Carbon nanotubes have potential to improve many consumer products; and
  • There are different types of carbon nanotubes, but all have a hexagonal pattern.

These two activities were tested in Spring 2008, during two public outreach events. While some visitors were too young to fully grasp the concept of nanotechnology or carbon nanotubes, both the coloring pages and the puppets were viewed as positive, enjoyable science experiences. The activities also provided an opportunity to talk with parents and caregivers about the nanoscale and nanotechnology.

Nanostained Glass Tabletop Progam

The nanostained glass classroom activity was adapted and extended for use in an informal, public outreach setting. While the main messages of the activity remain the same, the interactive components of the program were changed to better accommodate flow of visitors at a program table. In the revised activity, visitors chose to participate in a suite of three activities: creating a collaborative stained glass panel, building a large nanostained glass sculpture, and making a take away card containing a small "stained glass" window. Prior to the interactive activities, visitors learn about the nanoscale; how nanoparticles behave differently; and how medieval stained glass artisans harnessed the unique behavior of nanoparticles of silver, gold, and other metals in their work through a brief facilitated discussion (5-10 minutes).

The IPSE team adapted the nanostained glass tabletop activity for younger children. In this adapted version, young children make sun catchers using the nanostained glass pieces. The messages IPSE interns shared with young visitors were:

  • Nanoparticles are very, very, small-too small to see with your eyes.
  • Nanoparticles behave differently because of their small size. Silver and gold nanoparticles appear a different color than macroscale particles.

The sun catcher adaptation of this activity is better suited for young children because it limits chemical exposure and does not require the same degree of fine motor skills that the take-away card requires

The program can be downloaded from the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network's (NISE Net) catalog.

Sights Unseen: An Educational Nanoart show

Science outreach events rely on members of the public self-selecting to attend an event on campus or at other science-based venue. Therefore, attendees at these events are generally people already interested in science. To reach members of the public who might not self-select to attend a science-based event, the IPSE team undertook a project to bring nanotechnology to the public in a non-traditional setting. During Spring 2008, the interns curated a nano art show at a local Madison coffee shop. The art show featured nanotechnology research images provided by graduate students, post-docs, staff, and faculty from the UW MRSEC and UW NSEC. Fourteen research images were selected for display in the coffee shop. Seven of the 14 images were displayed with additional educational graphics that explained what was being depicted in the research image. In addition, each image was accompanied by an "artist's" statement, introducing the viewer to the scientist who created the research image. The show aimed to convey that:

  • Science imagery can be aesthetically pleasing;
  • Interesting scientific phenomena are happening below the visible threshold;
  • Science images can be made understandable by accompanying educational graphics; and
  • Science is a "people" story.

The show was on display during May 2008 at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse. While the show was on display, the IPSE team interviewed over 100 individuals using attitudinal surveys to gauge public interest and understanding of the images, as well as the public's overall interest in science and the art show as a whole. IEG personnel are currently analyzing the data collected and plan to publish the results in the coming months.

Select images from the Sights Unseen show will be on display at the Dane County Regional Airport in Spring 2009, as part of a show featuring UW science images as art, tentatively titled, "Tiny - UW Madison Discoveries on the Microscopic Level". This show is being curated by Tandem Press, a "self-supporting printmaking studio affiliated with the Department of Art in the UW School of Education".

Click here to view the images.

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Video modules for FIRST LEGO League (FLL)

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) holds annual, international robotics competitions, where groups of students work together to solve nine "missions" using LEGO robots. In late Summer 2006, FLL contacted UW MRSEC about creating background videos about nanotechnology for use in its 2006 competition "Nanoquest". Together with UW's Engineering Media Services, FLL, UW MRSEC, and IPSE filmed five videos, ranging in length from two to 10 minutes, that contain information about the FLL competition, nanotechnology in general, and areas of nanotechnology that relate specifically to the assigned missions. The films were released online to coincide with the competition's 'Kick Off' date in early Fall 2006. The videos on the FLL site received more than 35,000 visitors from around the world for the duration of the competition. To view the Nano Quest videos, click here.

Design of portable exhibits
IPSE interns designed two portable exhibits. One of the exhibits introduces the scanning probe microscope--a common tool of nanotechnology, while the other exhibit focuses on electrical conducutivity of nanotubes.

The scanning probe microscope exhibit uses macroscopic analogies to show visitors how scientists use different methods to "see" things at the nanoscale. In one interactive activity, visitors use their hands to mimic the action of a scanning probe to determine the morphology inside three reach-in boxes. In the other interactive, visitors use a magnetic probe to determine three different hidden magnetic patterns.

The second portable exhibit is an "electron race" that contrasts the electrical conductivity of carbon nanotubes and copper metal. Maze-like models of a copper lattice and carbon nanotube were constructed out of wood and ball bearings are used to represent electrons. During the "race", the ball bearings are dropped into the two models. Visitors observe that the "electron" in the carbon nanotube model always "wins", symbolizing the enhanced electrical conductivity of carbon nanotubes.

Development of tabletop programs

The interns developed and tested a number of interactive table top programs during the 2006-07 year. Three completely new programs: tabletop nanotube balloon models, magic sand, and lotus effect were created. Two programs were continutation of work started by previous IPSE teams: Cutting it down to nano and suspended nanotube balloon model. The completed guides for these program guides can be accessed from the Informal Science Outreach Activities portal of our website. In addition, these programs are also available through Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net) catalog.

Nanotube Balloons

Development of a large scale nanotube balloon model program was started by the 2005-06 IPSE team. The model consists of a suspended frame from which balloons are hung in the shape of a carbon nanotube that is four feet in diameter and up to 25 feet high. It is used primarily as a "hook" for grabbing people's attention and imagination and serves as an entry point to begin talking about nanotechnology with visitors. The 2006-07 IPSE interns refined the construction process and created two video manuals to disseminate the programs. The construction method can be viewed here.

The team further utilized balloons to build smaller, tabletop versions of the carbon nanotube models. In this program, visitors assist in the building of carbon nanotubes out of balloons. An instructional video on how to build the small nanotube ballo can be viewed here.

Magic Sand and the Lotus Effect

The IPSE team developed two programs to demonstrate how nanoscale features can change the way that water interacts with surfaces. In the Magic Sand program, visitors explore hydrophobicity by contrasting regular sand to Magic Sand. Through the program, visitors observe that Magic Sand repels water, unlike regular sand. The Magic Sand has a very thin hydrophobic (water-fearing) coating (or monolayer) on the particles that make it behave this way.

The IPSE interns also developed a second activity about hydrophobic surfaces that focuses on the Lotus Effect. The program gives visitors the opportunity to compare and contrast the way water interacts with different leaves-some that exhibit superhydrophobicity and some that do not. During the guided discussion, visitors discover that the lotus leaf's properties of self-cleaning and superhydrophobicity are the result of microscale bumps covered with nanoscale hairs on the waxy surface of the leaf.

Cutting It Down to Nano

To help visitors understand the extremely small scale of the nanometer, the interns adapted previously developed classroom activity, called "Cutting It Down". This activity challenges visitors to repeatedly cut a strip of paper in half using scissors, until they get a piece of paper less than 10 nanometers long. Visitors are typically able to cut the strip in half 8 or 10 times, while 27 cuts are necessary acheive thier assigned goal. A facilitated discussion allows visitors to reflect on what made cutting the paper even smaller too difficult and to discover for themselves why scientists need special tools to work at the nanoscale.

Development of a collaborative science-art lesson plan

Throughout the 2006-07 year, one IPSE intern focused on further developing a collaborative lesson plan, aimed at using stained glass to show students the interconnection between art and science. The science portion of the lesson focuses on the nanoscale and how materials can behave differently at this size. It also leads students through the synthesis of gold and silver nanoparticles. The art portion highlights interconnections between art and science, as well as the history of stained glass. Auxiliary materials, like background information, quiz questions, and grading rubrics, were also created and integrated into the lesson plan. The materials are undergoing revision and will be posted to the webiste upon completion.

Production of training videos for UW MRSEC outreach events

Interns filmed and edited 19 video presentations of 13 UW MRSEC IEG-developed outreach activities. The videos were for training the large number of volunteers who participated in the "Exploring the Nanoworld" exhibit at the UW College of Engineering's Engineering Expo, a large three-day outreach event on campus (April 18-20, 2007). UW MRSEC personnel have used the videos to train volunteers to lead IEG activities at other events as well.

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The UW-MRSEC Interdisciplinary Education Group, in partnership with the Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee, WI, hosts exhibits on nanotechnology that encourage visitors to explore the excitement and potential of cutting-edge nanotechnology research.

The goal of these exhibits is to help the public and pre-college students understand that nanotechnology, technology on the scale of atoms, is important to our lives, both now and in the future. The exhibits highlight current applications of nanotechnology, including liquid crystals and ferrofluids, and the role they play in society. Visitors develop an appreciation for the extremely small scale of "nano" through interactive activities on each exhibit.

Nanoworld Discovery Center

The Nanoworld Discovery Center (NDC) was made possible through the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and is housed in the atrium of the Engineering Centers Building at UW-Madison. Installed in December 2004, the NDC brings the cutting-edge research being done at UW-Madison to campus visitors in an accessible and interactive way.

The modular exhibit introduces visitors to the nanoscale, how scientists image objects at the nanometer level and some of the exciting applications of nanotechnology that are all around us. Interactive activities invite the user to learn, hands-on, about Ferrofluids and probe microscopy. A large stop light interactive serves as reminder that nanotechnology is present in our everyday lives.

The Engineering Centers Building is located at 1550 Engineering Drive on the UW-Madison campus. The building is open to visitors Monday-Friday 7:00 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

To take a virtual tour of the Nanoworld Discovery Center, click here.

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Prototype Development

Probe Microscopy Exhibit. Two exhibit prototypes were built in 2004-2005. The first exhibit prototype is designed to teach visitors about an important set of tools called probe microscopy that scientists use to see objects at the nanoscale. Probe microscopes work by feeling various properties of an object and creating an image of the object based on those properties. The exhibit features interactive activities that mimic essential aspects of how probe microscopes work and challenge visitors' problem-solving skills.

Probe Microscopy Exhibit

Force Microscopy
Scale Models
Drawings - under construction

Liquid Crystal Exhibit. The second exhibit prototype focuses on liquid crystals. Liquid crystals are a unique material in that they maintain their orientation, like a solid, but can also move around to different position, like the molecules in a liquid. Liquid crystals are sensitive to various stimuli, such as heat, chemicals, or electric currents, which cause the molecules to shift. This change in orientation can be seen as a color change visible to the naked eye. Visitors learn the basic properties of liquid crystals as well as applications of them through interactive features, including a user-controlled liquid crystal heat sensor.

Liquid Crystal Exhibit

Liquid Crystal Exhibit
Scale Models
Drawings - under construction

Full Exhibit Concept. The two kiosk-style exhibit prototypes are designed to be parts of a larger exhibit on nanotechnology. Click on the links below to learn about the full-concept exhibit and follow the design evolution of the liquid crystal and scanning probe microscopy exhibit prototypes.

Sketch of Full Concept

Full Exhibit Concept - under construction

More information and activities on liquid crystals and scanning probe microscopy are available through the UW MRSEC Interdisciplinary Education Group.

Formative Evaluation

The exhibit prototypes were tested at two seperate campus outreach events held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The observations made at these events were used to modify both the content and design of the exhibits to make them more effective and assessed the overall effectiveness of the exhibits. For detailed information on the assessments and for results, follow the links below.

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Liquid Crystal Sensors

The orientation of liquid crystal (LC) is shown to be sensitive to many physiochemical stimuli. Depending on the orientation, liquid crystals can change color and this allows for use of liquid crystals as visible sensors. The change of orientation of LC does not require much energy -this means that these sensors can be extremely sensitive. The goal of this project is to demonstrate a simple LC sensor that is sensitive to different concentration of a chemical (surfactant or detergent) and temperature, and to explain the physical concepts behind LC sensors. In addition, the project will expand into possible uses of LC as biological sensors.

The primary goal of this project is to:

  • explain the science behind liquid crystals and how they are used currently and potential future uses in biological sensing arena
  • develop hands-on activity to demonstrate liquid crystal sensors
Smart Papers: Carbonless/Thermally Sensitive Paper

Incorporation of "microencapsulation" colloid technology in traditional paper production created novel "smart" papers that can print without carbon sheets or ink rolls. The color dyes in colorless state become activated when placed in physical contact with special reaction material by writing pressure. Similarly, direct thermal imaging technology uses a document media that contains the "ink" in a colorless form as a coating on the surface. Heat generated in the tiny printhead element transfers to the media and activates the ink to develop color.

The primary goal of this project is to:

  • develop hands-on activity to demonstrate the novel technologies used in "smart" papers
  • explain/propose extension of such technology in security and other areas
Societal Implications 2003: Fear of New Technologies

In recent years, concern has grown within the nanotechnology research community about public reactions to nanotechnology. One interesting way to approach that issue would be through the history of public fears of new technologies. Such fears have been expressed in popular fiction from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park and Gattaca. They have also been a part of activist campaigns against DDT, nuclear weapons, and genetically modified organisms. What can students learn from some of these cases that could be helpful to people trying to better understand the societal implications of nanotechnology? Another option is to take a potential future application from nanotechnology and design a project that helps students explore its possible meaning for society. How might it change our lives for the better (or worse)? A third, more challenging option, designed for an audience of older students, would be to design a discussion around the question: how should the public relate to scientific and technological change in a democratic society? What does this imply for nanotechnology?

The primary goal of the team should be to:

  • make connections between science and society that help students develop an awareness of the impact of nanotechnology

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Nanoelectronics: Giant Magnetoresistance and Computer Hard Drives

Students dissect a hard drive to explore the fundamental principles of electricity, magnetism, and a nanotechnology-based phenomenon called giant magnetoresistance (GMR). GMR is exhibited by materials that have alternating layers of magnetic and non-magnetic materials, each a few atoms thick. The resistance of these materials changes dramatically when a magnetic field is introduced. GMR materials can be found in the read heads of your computer's hard drive. Students participate in a treasure hunt to find different components of the hard drive in order to win a prize. Students explore magnetism and electricity through hands-on demonstrations and must answer questions about these topics in order to receive visual clues to aid in their hard drive treasure hunt.

Nanomedicine: Ferrofluid

Most cancer drugs kill some good cells along with the bad cells making the patient very sick. What if you could treat cancer without making your patient sick? Nanotechnology, technology at the scale of atoms, may allow us to do this in the near future. Students will work in research teams to explore different methods of drug delivery. One method involves ferrofluid, a nanomaterial currently under investigation for medical applications. Ferrofluid is made from nano-sized particles of magnetite that are coated with a surfactant. The surfactant keeps the solid particles from sticking together giving a liquid-like appearance.

Nanoarchitecture: Forms of Carbon

Atoms are the building blocks of everything around us - including ourselves! Atoms come in different "flavors" called elements. Students will explore how the properties of materials change when atoms are connected in different ways. This concept will be explored when students investigate four forms of the element Carbon: diamond, graphite, buckyballs, and nanotubes. Carbon can form the hardest natural material known on earth, diamond, and it can also form one of the softest materials, graphite. The properties of each material change as the arrangement of atoms changes. When carbon atoms form tiny tubes, called carbon nanotubes, the tubes are twice as strong as steel but weigh six times less!

Societal Implications of Nanotechnology 2002

Students are the lawmakers for the city of Nanoville and are trying to decide whether to pass a new law that requires all new cars to be built with strength-enhancing nanotechnology, such as carbon nanotubes. This law would provide the funding to do so.

Students will participate in a mock legislature activity designed to illustrate the effect that technology has on society, and how society makes decisions regarding technology. The students will be divided into groups representing different segments of society: environmentalists, local industry and business leaders, healthcare administrators, local residents, and carbon nanotube manufacturers . Each group will discuss possible effects of nanotechnology on the interests of the people they represent. The class will be asked to consider both pros and cons of using nanotechnology and come to a decision at the end.

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