Nanotechnology Can Be Child's Play

'Hands-on' Learning Activity for Science Invisible to the Naked Eye

Sep 06, 2006, 01:00 ET from Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Most educators promote "hands-on"
 science learning -- instead of traditional rote memorization -- as the best
 way to teach and excite youngsters about science. Drawing on the world
 around them, children handle and manipulate the objects they study --
 plants, rocks, insects, water, magnetic fields. And students learn by using
 scientific instruments, measurement and observation devices like rulers,
 microscopes, telescopes, test tubes, and cameras.
     But how do children experience activities-based learning about
 nanotechnology -- a world of atoms and molecules that's too small to see
 with the naked eye and that requires sophisticated electron or scanning
 probe microscopes?
     Bethany Maynard, a 6th grader at a Fairfax County, Virginia elementary
 school, shows how young people can observe, test and investigate
 nanotechnology -- sharpening their analytical skills and becoming active
 science learners -- at home or in a classroom without any expensive
 equipment. All that's needed is some ketchup, mustard and a tie.
     Bethany's curiosity was sparked by a new silk tie bought by her father
 at Brooks Brothers(R) that claims to be treated with Nano-Tex (TM) fabric
 protection to repel liquids and stains. Examining the tie, she began to ask
 critical questions: What is nanotechnology? How does it protect clothing
 from stains? Does nanotechnology have other potential uses, particularly to
 help improve or safeguard the environment? Are there risks?
     She experimented in her family kitchen, slathering the tie with
 ketchup, mustard and coffee to test its stain resistant properties. And she
 posed basic questions about nanotechnology to her father, Andrew Maynard,
 chief science advisor at the Wilson Center's Project on Emerging
 Nanotechnologies. She also interviewed one of the country's leading experts
 on "green" nanotechnology, Barbara Karn, who works at the U.S.
 Environmental Protection Agency and who currently is a visiting scientist
 at the Project. In addition, Bethany turned to the Internet to find more
 information about nanotechnology online.
     Her Internet search included the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies'
 online inventory of almost 300 manufacturer-identified nanotechnology
 consumer products currently being sold in department and hardware stores,
 pharmacies, and sporting goods catalogues. The inventory includes the
 Brooks Brothers(R) tie she tested in her kitchen "laboratory":
     Using her family's video camera and recruiting her younger brother,
 Alex, as cameraman, Bethany produced a short video (8:25 minutes) that
 reports her main observations, findings and conclusions. The video is
 available online at the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies website:
     "Young people's ability to compete successfully in a 21st century
 global economy and to secure exciting, self-fulfilling careers is highly
 dependent on their scientific and mathematical literacy -- particularly
 their understanding of an emerging area like nanotechnology," according to
 Julia A. Moore, deputy director of the Project on Emerging
 Nanotechnologies. "If nanotechnology results in the new industrial
 revolution that many foresee, then it is vital for children like Bethany
 and others to have the opportunity -- in schools, science museums, or
 supervised at home -- to discover, experiment, ask questions and draw
 conclusions about nanotechnology using a hands-on learning approach."
     Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and
 manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one
 billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide. The
 National Science Foundation predicts that the world market for goods and
 services using nanotechnologies will grow to $1 trillion and employ 2
 million people by 2015. The U.S. invests approximately $3 billion annually
 in nanotechnology research and development, which accounts for
 approximately one-third of the total public and private sector investments
     The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is an initiative launched by
 the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable
 Trusts in 2005. It is dedicated to helping business, government and the
 public anticipate and manage possible health and environmental implications
 of nanotechnology.
     Contact: Sharon McCarter
     Phone: (202) 691-4016

SOURCE Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars