Senses of Scale, Butterfly Wing

macro, micro, and the nanoscale

4th-7th grade students and their families – (any age at open events – tailor questions for different age ranges)

Time FrameExhibit experience/drop-in demo/discussion
Set-up: 5 minutes
Activity: 10– 15 minutes
Clean-up: 5 minutes

After participating and interacting with the butterfly models and , students will be able to:

  1. Have a better understanding of scale and identify objects that are at the macro, micro and nanoscale. Get a sense that there are things much bigger than we can imagine and much smaller than we can see and imagine.
  2. Understand that materials behave differently at different sizes or scales. Such as the
  3. A. The nano scale is really, really, really smal
  4. B. Things at this small scale can act in unexpected ways
  5. C. Scientists and Engineers can use these unexpected properties to harness new technologies
  6. Display a general understanding of the Powers of Ten and or Senses of Scale

Standards Addressed
NS.K-4.1 Science as Inquiry

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

NS.K-4.2 Physical Science

  • Properties of objects and materials

NS.K-4.5 Science and Technology

  • Understanding about science and technology
  • Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans

Engineering Principles
Please list and describe the engineering principles that are addressed in your teaching activity, such as project planning, modeling, analysis, design, optimization, demonstration, collaboration, reporting, revision, and team building. Engineering principles of the Next Generation Science Standards can be found here:

1 Scientific and Engineering Practices
1.    Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
4.    Analyzing and interpreting data
6.    Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
2 Crosscutting Concepts
1.     Patterns
3.    Scale, proportion, and quantity
6. Structure and function
3 Disciplinary Core Ideas
Physical Sciences
Life Sciences
LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics
ESS1: Earth’s place in the universe

Activity Materials

  • 2, (3’-4’) welded butterfly armature’s one of a monarch butterfly and one of a

morpho butterfly (The “magnifying” glasses that go over the images are not secure on the monarch butterfly yet, just rest them in place for now)

  • National Geographic Kids Great Migrations Butterflies Book by Laura Marsh
  • Enclosed specimens of monarch and morpho butterflies and other insects
  • Sizing Things Down card game by NISE NET (part of nano days kit 2011)/li>
  • Memory card game by NISE NET (part of nano days kit 2011)
  • NISE NET poster – zooming into a butterflies wing
  • ¼ sheets of game (assessment) on ideas of scale
  • pencils for game (assessment) for ¼ sheet ideas of scale
  • 4 magnifying glasses (for closer observation)
  • Pieces of butterfly wings for visitors to look at, touch and interact with in clear dishes
  • Book on Colors in Nature
  • Butterfly stamp(s) and stamp pad(s)

Activity Instructions
Set-up – set up table or activity space with butterflies, books, posters, pencils, assessment game ¼ sheet, insects in boxes for visitors to engage with.
Introduction (5 minutes)
Discussion and interaction with visitors.
(Depending on the age of visitors tailor the questions to fit their level of understanding)

  • Ask visitors what the models are of? (answer Monarch and Morpho Butterflies)
  • Can they identify what types of butterflies are theses?
  • What do they observe, colors, shapes, patterns, wing structures.
  • What do they know about these two types of butterflies? Where do they live?
  • Why is a morpho blue? Is it really blue?
  • What do you know about butterflies, monarchs, migration path?

The Next Part of the Activity (2-3 min)
Follow up question(s) to the introduction –
What is larger than a butterfly? What is smaller?
Do you think there are larger things thank what you can think of?
What is the smallest thing you can think of?
Do you think there are smaller things than that?
Are there things smaller than we can see? What might those things be?
Do you think there are things on a butterfly that are too small for us to see with our eyes?
How might we be able to see these things that are too small for our eyes to see?

The Third Part of the Activity (2-3 min)
Describe and converse with visitors on – ideas of scale
Monarchs travel farther than any other living/flying creature. They fly approximately 2,800 miles during their migration period that last 4 generations. (Describe what migration and generations are)
Can you imagine how far that is?
Did you know that butterflies have scales on their wings? They have overlapping scales.
They are pretty small, almost too small to see but with optical microscopes we can see them and to see even further into the butterflies wings. (Share info about wings with visitors on the NISE NET poster.
Scales on morpho butterflies wing are not actually blue, but rather are really packed tightly brown overlapping scales and the reason they reflect blue is from the way the light interacts with and reflects off of the scales.
Butterflies and specifically their wings are currently being studied to show engineers and scientists how to build better solar cells. Another example of showing what we can learn from nature! (more info on this can be found on the resource portion of this activity guide)

Conclusion (2-3 min)
Assessment – ask students/families if they would review with what they have learned with you and participate in the game of putting objects in order on the quarter sheet. After completion offer them a butterfly hand stamp or you could stamp a butterfly on their quarter sheet game.
If questions come up as to how the butterfly models were crafted they were made from a welded steel armature and but on a base. Silk material was hand dyed and stretched and attached with a glue/fabric hardener. Images were taken of morpo and butterfly scales in a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) at different magnifications scaling down to show the scales on a butterflies wings, showing patterns in nature and zooming in on scale to almost the nano scale. Each butterfly has 5 images printed on it of that particular type of butterflies scales under magnification. PDMS (like a rubber stamp) was put over the top of each image to protect the images and give an ide of looking at an image under a microscope. This project is a great example of science and art coming together and how science can be taught by using art as a vehicle to teach complex scientific concepts.

Background (review these items)

  • National Geographic Kids Great Migrations Butterflies Book by Laura Marsh
  • Sizing things down – Orders of Magnitude sheet (Nano Days Kit 2011)
  • Powers of 10 (Nano Days Kit game)
  • Macro, Micro, Nano Memory Game (Nano Days Kit game)

Supplemental Materials

  • ¼ sheet (assessment game to be given at end of discussion)

Work in progress

Additional References
Any supplemental and age-appropriate material that a teacher might use to increase his or her student’s knowledge and interest on the topics addressed in your teaching activity.

RET Fellow: Angela Johnson
RET Leadership Team: RET Teachers, Ben Taylor, George Lisensky, Troy Dassler, Tom Bryan, and Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel.