Nanotechnology Module
NanoEd Resources - Nano Lessons and Courses
Written by Adam D. McFarland, Chisty L. Haynes, Prof. Hilary A. Godwin   
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 14:36

Negatively charged sodium citrate ions covering the surface of gold atoms maintain individual gold nanoparticles in colloidal suspension.


The Nanotechnology Module, a joint project with the Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, teaches students about the interesting science that happens at the nanoscale, the tools used by scientists to study objects so small, and the potential applications of discoveries made in nanotechnology. Activity 1 introduces the concept of nanometer, asking "Just how small is a nanometer?" and "How does the size of something determine its physical and chemical properties?" To give students an idea of the different technological developments that are in existence in the "Nano-World," in Activity 2, they are asked to choose a nanoscale object from a list of examples and research its properties and current and future uses. In Activity 3, students create a macroscale model of what scientists do at the nanoscale with masking technology. Such a technique could be applied to create nanoscale circuitry, for example. Activity 4 looks at the challenges of signal amplification that one faces when working with nanoscale objects. The challenge in the culminating design project is to design, build, test, and evaluate a working model of an atomic force microscope (AFM), a valuable instrument scientists use to "see" nanoscale objects. Although research efforts in nanotechnology are still in the preliminary stages, the discoveries have the potential to significantly impact the fields of medicine, electronics, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and materials science, among others.


Activity 1: Changing the Properties of Materials by Changing Their Size
The purpose of this activity is for students to discover that the physical and chemical properties of materials can depend on their size. In Part A, students examine how the catalytic activity of manganese dioxide (MnO2) can be increased by reducing the size of the MnO2 particles. In Part B, students use a colloid consisting of nanosized gold particles to examine how the size of the gold particles in the colloid solution can be modulated and how this affects the optical properties (color) of the colloid. This color change is due to a physical change of the substance, not a chemical change.

Activity 2: Searching for Nanoscale Objects
This activity gives students an idea of the different technological developments that are in existence in the "Nano-World." They are asked to choose a nanoscale object from a list of examples and research its properties and current and future uses.  Students can then present their findings in a variety of ways, such as a poster, PowerPoint presentation, paper, or class discussion.

Activity 3: Nanopatterning with Lithography
How can nanosized particles be made? In this activity, students investigate the concepts of lithographic patterning and serial vs. parallel fabrication. They model nanolithography by creating patterns of spheres in a frame template (similar to billiard balls in a triangular rack) and sprinkling glitter (simulating silver atoms) through the interstices. When the mask is removed, individual silver "nanoparticles" are revealed.

Activity 4: Amplifying the Nanoscale to the Macroscale
In this activity, students determine how to amplify the atomic scale to a macroscopic scale, a key feature for building an atomic force microscope (AFM) in their design project. They model two essential parts of an AFM. In Part A, they create a calibration curve by moving a coil spring on the millimeter scale and measuring its amplified movements in the centimeter or decimeter scale. In Part B, students relate force on the spring to the amplified signal/movement.

Design Project 1: Designing a Nanoscale Imaging Apparatus
Students are challenged to build a working model of an AFM capable of quantitatively image surface features using what they have learned in the previous activities. The model must be able to be scaled down to measure nanoscale features.

Design Project 2: Modeling a Nanoscience Application
Students are challenged to research and model (either physically or conceptually) a process, technique, or machine that is used in nanotechnology. For example, they could do their project on something they found during their Internet search (Activity 2) or something else entirely.


» Sample Activity Pages (PDF)

Contact us if you would like to participate in field testing this module.



MWM logo
Contributed by
Materials World Modules (MWM)

Main Authors:
1Adam D. McFarland,
1Chisty L. Haynes,
1Prof. Hilary A. Godwin

2Neil Schmidgall,
1Prof. Mark Hersam,
1Prof. Richard Van Duyne

1Northwestern University, IL, USA
2 Glenbrook North High School, IL, USA

Grade level:


Time Allocation:
10-12, 50-minute periods

Last Updated on Friday, 30 October 2009 14:39
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