Hands-on Science

IMG_20140419_141131_589 For many Ph.D. students there is nothing more fun than going to a hands-on science museum. Especially when the technology and science presented is AWESOME.  Recently I got the chance to visit the National Museum of Scotland  in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK and it was more exciting than I’d like to admit.  I got to see both an original Watt engine and a Newcomen engine!!! As a bonus, I was able to catch the end of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. I was able to peruse the Mini Maker Faire and learn more about the growing maker scene here. What is a Maker? It generally refers to people who are involved in do-it-yourself technology.  The hands-on booths reminded me of my last venture into activity-centered learning at Kids’ Tech University (KTU) waaayy back in February. KTU At KTU, I was joined by six other members of VTSuN, both students and faculty, in facilitating activities focused on nanotechnology. We were one of approximately 20+ booths vying for the attention of 450 eight- to twelve-year-olds and their parents. We were armed with seven unique activities from the 2014 NanoDays Kits designed by Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net). The kits provided by this “national community of researchers and informal science educators dedicated to fostering public awareness, engagement, and understanding of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology,” included all the materials, explanations and handouts needed to run a successful outreach event. “Most students either knew that nanotechnology involved ‘really, really, really small things’, or they left our booth knowing it.” – Marina Vance, VTSuN faculty “…it allowed children to visually see that nanotechnology represents meaningful attributes to our everyday lives. “- Hannah King, graduate student, Geosciences I ran the ever popular capillary action experiment.  You’ve likely observed water moving up a paper towel; if not, go grab a paper towel, dip only the end of the towel in cup of water and watch how far the water travels. I demonstrated the same effect with more flair by having the 3rd to 6th graders draw with colored markers on coffee filters and then spraying their designs with water.  As you can see in the picture, it’s straightforward to introduce pretty designs. capillary So, why does water travel ‘up’? At small scales, i.e. nanoscale, gravity is not the strongest force acting on the liquid. This allows other forces, which arealways present, to dominate the movement of the liquid.  Often nanomaterials have different properties than their origin material, a gold nanoparticle has different properties than a gold wedding band, and said properties are what make nanotechnology fascinating and also a game changer. [Side note for more descriptions of capillary actions check out the following videos: beginner, Khan Academy, plug-‘n-chug.]

Many students were attracted to the activity Nina was presenting [haha, bad pun] because they were able to manipulate a liquid using a magnet. How? The liquid is composed of magnetic nanoparticles of iron oxide called magnetite.  In the presence of a magnetic field, think small magnet, the particles align and look like a solid.  Interested in more pictures?  Google ferrofluid, the scientific name for this 1963 invention, or take a one-dollar bill out of your wallet.Ferrofluids are used in U.S. currency for fraud prevention but more importantly they are used by vending machines!

If you are interested in the other five activities we conducted, please find the link to the kit material next to the presenters name.  We also highly recommend that teachers and other nano-focus individuals check out the NISE Net website for ideas on hands-on A special thanks to the VTSuN students and faculty who participated in this event: Ron Kent – Exploring Properties: Electric Squeeze Hannah King – Nano and Society: You decide! Becky Lahr – Exploring Properties: Invisibility Weinan Leng – Exploring Fabrication: Electroplating Rui Serra Maia – Exploring Materials: Oobleck Marina Vance – Exploring Materials: Ferrofluid Marjorie Willner – Exploring Properties: Capillary Action Check out some photos of this event on our Facebook page! Here are some tweets from that day:


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