Category Archives: education

Nanotechnology education, artificial muscles, and Estonian high schools?

The University of Tartu (Estonia) announced in a Sept. 29, 2014 press release an educational and entrepreneurial programme about nanotechnology/nanoscience for teachers and students,

Led by the University of Tartu, innovative Estonian schools participate in the Quantum Spin-Off project, which aims to bring youth in contact with nanotechnology, modern science and high-tech entrepreneurship. Pupils participating in the project will learn about seven topics of nanotechnology, including the creation of artificial muscles and the manipulation of nanoparticles.

Most people have little contact with nanoscience and nanotechnologies, although the exciting nano-world has always been around us. “Most Estonian teachers do not have the experience of introducing nanoscience required for understanding the nano-world or the necessary connections that would allow visiting the experts in nanoscience and enterprises using the technology,” said the leader of the Quantum Spin-Off project, UT Professor of Technology Education Margus Pedaste, describing the current situation of acquiring nanotechnology knowledge in Estonia.

Coordinator of the project, Project Manager at the Centre for Educational Technology Maarika Lukk adds that nanoscience is interesting and necessary, as it offers plenty of practical applications, for instance in medicine, education, military industry and space.

The press release goes on to describe the Quantum Spin-Off project and the proposed nanoscience programme in more detail,

To bring nanoscience closer to pupils, educational researchers of the University of Tartu decided to implement the European Union LLP Comenius project “Quantum Spin-Off – connecting schools with high-tech research and entrepreneurship”. The objective of the project is to build a kind of a bridge: at one end, pupils can familiarise themselves with modern science, and at the other, experience its application opportunities at high-tech enterprises. “We also wish to inspire these young people to choose a specialisation related to science and technology in the future,” added Lukk.

The pupils can choose between seven topics of nanotechnology: the creation of artificial muscles, microbiological fuel elements, manipulation of nanoparticles, nanoparticles and ionic liquids as oil additives, materials used in regenerative medicine, deposition and 3D-characterisation of atomically designed structures and a topic covered in English, “Artificial robotic fish with EAP elements”.

Learning is based on study modules in the field of nanotechnology. In addition, each team of pupils will read a scientific publication, selected for them by an expert of that particular field. In that way, pupils will develop an understanding of the field and of scientific texts. On the basis of the scientific publication, the pupils prepare their own research project and a business plan suitable for applying the results of the project.

In each field, experts of the University of Tartu will help to understand the topics. Participants will visit a nanotechnology research laboratory and enterprises using nanotechnologies.

The project lasts for two years and it is also implemented in Belgium, Switzerland and Greece.

You can find more information about the European Union’s Quantum Spin-Off Project on its website (from the homepage),

The Quantum Spinoff project will bring science teachers and their pupils in direct contact with research and entrepreneurship in the high-tech nano sector, with the goal of educating a new generation of scientifically literate European citizens and inspiring young people to choose for science and technology careers. Teams of pupils, guided by their science teachers, will be challenged to create a responsible and socially relevant valorisation of a scientific paper in collaboration with actual researchers and entrepreneurs. They will visit high-tech research labs and will compete for the European Quantum Spin-Off Prize. Scientific and technological insights, creativity and responsible entrepreneurship will be all taken into account by the jury of experts. Science teachers will be trained in international and national workshops to support the inquiry learning process of their pupils.

This drive toward linking science to entrepreneurial output is an international effort as this Quantum-Spin Off project , Singapore’s A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) and my Sept. 30, 2014 post about the 2014 Canadian Science Policy Conference  make abundantly clear.

The Innovation Society’s Nanorama Car Workshop

Thanks to a Sept. 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk, I’ve come across this education initiative for workers in the automotive industry,

Nanomaterials and ultra-fine particles in car workshops – learn how to handle them safely by exploring the “Nanorama Car Workshop”, which is now available (in German) at http://nano.dguv.de/nanorama/bghm/. A “Nanorama” is a virtual classroom that allows its users to gather important information on safe handling of nanomaterials in a 360° work environment.

The emphasis of the “Nanorama Car Workshop” is on the handling of products containing nanomaterials and on work processes that can lead to the formation of ultra-fine particles. In the “Nanorama Car Workshop”, the user receives useful information about hazard evaluation assessment, the occupational exposure to nanomaterials and necessary protective measures.

An Aug. 25, 2014 DGUV (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung; German Social Accident Insurance Institution) press release, (summary available here) provides more details,

The ‘Nanorama Lab’ (http://nano.dguv.de/nanorama/bgrci/) represents the second interactive educational tool on the Nano-Platform ‘Safe Handling of Nanomaterials’ (http://nano.dguv.de) (both currently only available in German). They were developed by the Innovation Society, St. Gallen, in close collaboration with the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the raw materials and chemical industry (BG RCI). The ‘Nanorama Lab’ offers in-depth insights into the safe handling of nanomaterials and installations used to manufacture or process nanomaterials in laboratories. Complementary to hazard evaluation assessments, it enables users to assess the occupational exposure to nanomaterials and to identify necessary protective measures when handling said materials in laboratories.

«Due to the attractive visual implementation and the interactive contents, the ‘Nanorama Lab’ offers a great introduction to protective measures in laboratories », says Dr. Thomas H. Brock, Head of the Expert Committee on Hazardous Substances of the BG RCI. The ‘Nanorama Lab’ inspires curiosity in users and instigates them to reflect on the conditions in their respective workplaces. «By exploring the ‘Nanorama Lab’, laboratory staff actively deals with occupational health and safety in laboratories and its practical implementation with regard to nanomaterials.»

The press release goes on to describe the ‘nanorama’ concept,

Presenting the ‘Nanorama Lab’, the DGUV again harnesses the interactive E-Learning tool ‘Nanorama’ developed by The Innovation Society, St. Gallen. A ‘Nanorama’ – a lexical blend of ‘Nano’ and ‘Panorama’, – is a novel 360°-E-learning module in which the user enters a virtual space and moves around in it. By completing a ‘Nanorama’, users acquire knowledge in an entertaining manner. ‘Nanoramas’ can be applied in many areas of education and communication.

The first module of the Nano-Platform, the ‘Nanorama Construction’, can be visited on http://nano.dguv.de/nanorama/bgbau/. It offers insights into the use and applications of nanomaterials in the construction industry and will soon be followed by the ‘Nanorama
Metal’. Additionally, the Nano-Platform c an be expanded with further ‘Nanorama’-modules on any given sector or trade thanks to its modular design.

There is no word as to when an English-language version may be available but you can visit the Nanomara car workshop, regardless.

You can also check out the Nano-Portal for more information about this car Nanorama and other such inititiatives.

Here’s an image from the Nanorama car workshop,

Nanorama car workshop [downloaded from http://nano.dguv.de/]

Nanorama car workshop [downloaded from http://nano.dguv.de/]

University of Oxford (UK)’s wider aspects of nanotechnology online course

Despite its designation as a summer school programme, this University of Oxford’s online nanotechnology course is being offered from Oct. 13 – Nov. 30, 2014. Here’s more from the University of Oxford, Dept. of Continuing Studies, The Wider Contest of Nanotechnology webpage,

Overview

Nanotechnology is the identification, application and use of novel behaviour that occurs at the nanoscale to solve real-world problems. The discipline requires a breadth of understanding that is much wider than just the equations and scientific principles that underlie that behaviour. This introductory course gives an overview of the current state of nanotechnology as well as introducing the implications of these new technologies for safety, regulation, and innovation. The course provides an overview of the societal and environmental implications of nanotechnology.

The Wider Context of Nanotechnology online course can be taken alone, with or without academic credit, or as part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Nanotechnology.

The result has been a high degree of confusion at all levels of society as to the ethics, safety and business implications of this emerging series of technologies. The course addresses these issues and others in emphasising the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology. This is important because students who specialise in nanotechnology must be trained to appreciate a range of issues beyond the confines of pure science. Nanotechnology has applications in a broad range of fields and sectors of society. A student trained in electrical engineering, for example, who goes on to specialise in nanotechnology, may undertake a research project developing nanosensors that will be implanted in human subjects. He or she will therefore need to develop new skills to appreciate the broader ethical, societal and environmental implications of such research.

The development of interdisciplinary skills involves not only learning methods of reasoning and critical thinking, but also gaining experience with the dynamics and development of effective multi-disciplinary function. Technologists must become comfortable addressing various issues as an integral part of doing advanced research in a team that might draw upon the expertise of not only engineers, but also biologists, doctors, lawyers and business people. As the project evolves knowledge of the place of nanotechnology in business becomes increasingly important. This course teaches an understanding of the basic workings of how nanotechnology innovation is exploited, together with an understanding of the dynamics of entrepreneurship

Here are some details about the Programme Director and Tutor,

Dr Christiane Norenberg

Role: Director

Christiane is the Nanotechnology HEIF Manager at the University of Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park. She received her DPhil in Materials Science from the University of Oxford in 1998 and continued with postdoctoral research. In 2001, Christiane was awarded the Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for her work on the growth and characterisation of nanostructures on semiconductor surfaces. After a period as a lecturer at the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre at Swansea University, Christiane returned to Oxford in 2007 to take up her present post.

Her interests and expertise are in the areas of surface science, growth and characterisation of nanostructures on surfaces, and nanotechnology in general. Christiane also teaches nanoscience and materials science at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Dr Keith Simons

Role: Tutor

Dr Keith Simons, a chemist by training, is an independent innovation consultant who works as an interim manager in business development and fundraising for high-technology start-up organisations. He also works for regional, national and European governments in evaluation and monitoring of publicly-funded research. Keith is also the tutor for our first course to feature Adobe Connect Professional, the Postgraduate Certificate in Nanotechnology.

He has previously been the Business Development Manager for the Crystal Faraday Partnership, a not-for-profit organisation, backed by the British government and responsible for advancing innovation in Green Chemical Technologies for the chemical and allied industries. Prior to Crystal Faraday, he worked for Avantium Technologies in Amsterdam, a start-up company that developed high throughput technologies for the chemicals and pharmaceutical industries. This built upon his experience as development chemist at Johnson Matthey in the UK where he developed accelerated techniques for catalyst development and process optimisation for pharmaceutical manufacture.

Keith has degrees from the Universities of Hull and Liverpool. He has also performed postdoctoral research at the ETH, Zurich.

I notice Dr. Norenberg received a ‘Dorothy Hodgkin’ fellowship. Coincidentally, I mentioned a play about Dorothy Hodgkin and her friendship with Margaret Thatcher (Hodgkin’s former student and a UK Prime Minister) to be broadcast on BBC 4 later this week on Aug. 20, 2014. Scroll down about 50% of the way if you want to read my Aug. 15, 2014 posting about the play and other arts and sciences news.

Getting back to the wider implications of nanotechnology, the course fee is £2400.00 and it is possible to apply for scholarships and other financial assistance.

Ontario’s special science research, writing, and presentation programme (Online Research Co-op Pilot Program) for high schoolers

A group of teenagers in Thunder Bay , Ontario participating in a pilot programme where they were mentored online by Canadian government federal scientists were profiled in a May 9, 2104 news item published by The Chronicle Journal; the newspaper of the northwest (Ontario),

Three Churchill high school students have completed a bold journey in science.

The science co-op students were each teamed up with a federal scientist in a year-long pilot project that ended this week when the students presented their research paper to a panel of experts.

Shane Wong, 17, worked on nanotechnology, materials at the size of molecules and atoms. “I think I was watching an episode of Daily Planet actually, and they mentioned nanotechnology, and I thought that was really cool,’’ Wong recalled. “When they offered this program at the school, nanotechnology was one of them.”

Wesley Willick, 16, looked at a space-based automatic identification system. “It is basically a bunch of ships at sea . . . communicating with each other, (sharing) data such as speed and where they are heading and what they are carrying . . . relaying that information up to a satellite and back down to a mainland station which can organize the data and make sure none of the ships collide,” explained Willick.

“I originally signed up for military technology and I got paired with somebody who works at the Maritime Defence Institute in Halifax,’’ Willick said. “He gave me several different options . . . and thought this was the best to do because it had more papers written on it.”

Robin Little, 17, wrote on phage therapy, a bacteria used to attack specific bacteria and which can be genetically modified, he said. “This is going to be used as an alternative medication as opposed to antibiotics, as antibiotics are extremely dangerous and poisonous,” said Little. …

Simrun Chabal, an International Baccalaureate student, also participated in the science co-op, but was unavailable to do his presentation due to other commitments.

Churchill was one of six Ontario schools involved in the pilot project.

The full title for the project is this: Ontario On-Line Research Co-op for high school students. There’s this from the project homepage,

This course has been collaboratively developed by the Canadian Young Scientist Journal and the federal Science and Technology Cluster (Science.gc.ca).

The Online Research Co-op Pilot Program has been developed to help students transition from secondary school to postsecondary education. The program matches highly motivated high school students, in grades 11 and 12, with top researchers in the fields of science and technology. Students are offered opportunities to work on research projects, interact with like-minded peers, and gain early exposure to careers in science and technology. The online format of the course makes it accessible to students across Ontario.

The program has been piloted in four schools across the province:

Earl Haig Secondary School
École secondaire publique De la Salle
Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate & Vocational Institute
St. Martin Secondary School

Additional Ontario high schools can now apply to offer this opportunity for their students. Their letters of intent should be coordinated with the program liaison ([email protected]) and submitted to the Canadian Young Scientist Journal.

The pilot program will be the topic of a workshop at the Ontario Cooperative Education Association Spring Conference (April 27 – 29, 2014) and at the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers Conference (May 24, 2014).The best On-Line Research Co-op projects will be:

profiled in the Canadian Young Scientist Journal and distributed to every high school in Ontario;
presented at the Ontario Annual Science and Innovation conference to the attention of the national academic community;
showcased on Science.gc.ca together with a Young Scientist Blog allowing students to share their experience and ideas with each other and with the general public.

Step-by-step pilot project description:

1. Choosing students

A selection process takes place at the participating high schools to choose the students who will take part in the online co-op. Students develop their cover letters and a description of science projects they would like to pursue. The co-op liaison passes the names of the successful students along with their cover letters, research requests and alternatives to the Science.gc.ca team to engage scientists interested in mentoring.

2. Finding the mentors

The Science.gc.ca team matches projects with scientists who expressed interest in mentoring and helping to develop the next generation of scientists. If no exact match is found for a particular project, the Science.gc.ca team will approach potential mentors in a similar field of study. After reviewing materials from students, the scientists agree to mentor a particular student.

3. The interview

The liaison arranges a Skype or telephone “interview” between the student, the mentor and the local co-op teacher. During the interview, the mentor and student will discuss the project and the expectations while making any mutually acceptable modifications.

4. Setting up collaboration

The Science.gc.ca team creates a separate online SharePoint site for each student and a mentoring scientist. The collaboration space allows for an easy exchange of ideas, information, assigning research topics, and reviewing work submitted over the period of one semester. The information on the roles and responsibilities of the student and the mentor are integrated into the site. As this is a pilot project, participants, teachers and mentors also have access to a forum for sharing successes, tips, and lessons learned with other teams.

5. Using collaboration spaces

Based on the interview, the mentor adapts the project expectations and deliverables and uploads them to the SharePoint site. The mentor also provides a list of resources that the student can use as well as tasks to be accomplished. The student and the mentor regularly communicate online and the student posts timely progress updates and uploads results of completed tasks. The mentor approves the student’s weekly timesheets and completes the mid-course and final evaluation forms online.

6. Measuring ongoing progress

Each collaboration site includes tools supporting ongoing interactions and measurement of student’s progress. The mentor and the co-op teacher have an opportunity to be involved as little or as much as necessary based on the course progress indicators; the mentor can decide when the student needs assistance or guidance. The student and the mentor meet half way through the course via Skype or telephone to discuss progress and if necessary modify the expectations for the deliverables and the final report. By the end of the course the student submits results in a form of project report, case study or research topic review.

7. Celebrating results

The Online Research Co-op Pilot Program supports students’ transition from high school into postsecondary institutes with a focus on 21st century career development. We will celebrate the best projects in the following ways:

Featuring them in the Canadian Young Scientist Journal distributed to every high school in Ontario;
Presenting the projects at the Ontario Annual Science and Innovation conference to the attention of the national academic community;
Creating a showcase on Science.gc.ca together with a Young Scientist Blog allowing students to share their experience and ideas.

All of the participating mentors will be recognised in a special section of Science.gc.ca for their contribution to the development of the next generation of Canadian scientists and researchers.

There’s also a plea for mentors on the project homepage,

This program allows participating scientists to mentor and shape the next generation of Canadian scientists through direct on-line contact. During a 4 month semester, students are expected to work for about 90 hours. Mentoring scientists are expected to contribute about 10 hours of their time over the same period. Early exposure to research can have a large impact on the career direction of these students. Recently, through the Canadian Young Scientist Journal, high school students demonstrated their ability to invent New Bio-science technologies, Non-voice over IP communication and more. However, these students require mentors to guide their intellectual curiosity.

Mentors have the opportunity to review the cover letter of students before accepting them as mentees. During an initial online meeting, the student and the mentor will discuss expectations and guidelines for the project. There will be generic assignments available for students (e.g., Writing a Scientific Paper, Critiquing a Scientific Paper, Report on Scientific Literature, Scientific Literature Review and Analysis), but the specifics of the project will be mutually agreed upon by both the student and mentor. An online SharePoint site will be a means for the students and mentors to share ideas, documents, and information. The mentor may be involved as little or as much as necessary in the student’s project, based on the course progress indicators. Mentorship duties may be partially designated to a graduate student in the mentor’s lab; however, all projects should provide students with the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in science and technology research.

I’m glad to see this project and hope it is quite successful and spreads across the country in all directions.

One final comment, I am not familiar with the Canadian Young Scientist Journal (CYSJ) and after a bit of online digging, I found this description in its Wikipedia entry (Note: links have been removed),

The Canadian Young Scientist Journal (fr. Revue Canadienne des Jeunes Scientifiques) is a non-profit peer-reviewed publication covering highlight student-driven research and innovative work. It was established in May 2008 by its current editor-in-chief, Alexandre Noukhovitch[1] and is published by NRC Research Press. [emphasis mine] It provides secondary school students with an opportunity to publish the results of their research.[2] The journal is based in Toronto and is published twice per year. It works in close association with Youth Science Canada.[3] The journal includes project reports, case studies, and science book reviews authored by high school students.[4] To benefit science education and to support classroom activities, the journal publishes expert reviews along with students’ papers.

The journal was published by the Canadian federal government’s National Research Press which exists now as a brand for Canadian Science Publishing (CSP), a not-for-profit publishing group formed after the government severed it from Canada’s National Research Council. Oddly, there’s no mention of any publisher, CSP or otherwise, in the About the Journal page or elsewhere on the journal’s website but the Ads and sponsorships page does mention CSP in the Motivator category.

It’s always interesting trying to trace the network of relationships between government and non-government agencies especially since the Canadian federal government has created a number of not-for-profit agencies.I’m not trying to suggest sinister but it does get confusing when the agencies don’t think to include histories and explanations.

In the interest of clarifying things, I was involved in a project (Science Borealis; a Canadian science blog aggregator/hub/community) which was, and I think continues to to be, supported by CSP.

MIT.nano: new nanotechnology research hub for 2018 and the Self-Assembly Lab

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has released an unheard of (as far as I’m concerned) two announcements about a new building, MIT.nano. The shorter announcement mentions priorities (from an April 30, 2014 news item on Azonano),

“If you have your hands on the right tools,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif, “we believe even big problems have answers.” And, he adds, “A state-of-the-art nano facility is the highest priority for MIT, because nanoscience and nanotechnology are omnipresent in innovation today.”

The longer announcement (from an April 30,2014 news item on Azonano) gives more details about the proposed building,

MIT.nano will house two interconnected floors of cleanroom laboratories containing fabrication spaces and materials growth laboratories, greatly expanding the Institute’s capacity for research involving components that are measured in billionths of a meter — a scale at which cleanliness is paramount, as even a single speck of dust vastly exceeds the nanoscale. The building will also include the “quietest” space on campus — a floor optimized for low vibration and minimal electromagnetic interference, dedicated to advanced imaging technologies — and a floor of teaching laboratory space. Finally, the facility will feature an innovative teaching and research space, known as a Computer-Aided Visualization Environment (CAVE), allowing high-resolution views of nanoscale features.

The longer announcement made in this April 30, 2014 MIT news release which provides more details about the building, the thinking that went into its location, and its special requirements,

The four-level MIT.nano will replace the existing Building 12, and will retain its number, occupying a space alongside the iconic Great Dome. It will be interconnected with neighboring buildings, and accessible from MIT’s Infinite Corridor — meaning, Bulović [electrical engineering professor Vladimir Bulović] says, that the new facility will be just a short walk from the numerous departments that will use its tools.

Users of the new facility, he adds, are expected to come from more than 150 research groups at MIT. They will include, for example, scientists who are working on methods to “print” parts of human organs for transplantation; who are creating superhydrophobic surfaces to boost power-plant efficiency; who work with nanofluids to design new means of locomotion for machines, or new methods for purifying water; who aim to transform the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals; and who are using nanotechnology to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, the world’s most ubiquitous building material.

Cleanroom facilities, by their nature, are among the most energy-intensive buildings to operate: Enormous air-handling machinery is needed to keep their air filtered to an extraordinarily high standard. Travis Wanat, the senior project manager at MIT who is overseeing the MIT.nano project, explains that while ventilation systems for ordinary offices or classrooms are designed to exchange the air two to six times per hour, cleanroom ventilation typically requires a full exchange 250 times an hour. The fans and filters necessary to handle this volume of air require an entire dedicated floor above each floor of cleanrooms in MIT.nano.

But MIT.nano will incorporate many energy-saving features: Richard Amster, director of campus engineering and construction, has partnered with Julie Newman, MIT’s director of sustainability. Together, they are working within MIT, as well as with the design and contracting teams, “to develop the most efficient building possible for cleanroom research and imaging,” Amster says.

Toward that end, MIT.nano will use heat-recovery systems on the building’s exhaust vents. The building will also be able to sense the local cleanroom environment and adjust the need for air exchange, dramatically reducing MIT.nano’s energy consumption. Dozens of other features aim to improve the building’s efficiency and sustainability.

Despite MIT.nano’s central location, the floor devoted to advanced imaging technology will have “more quiet space than anywhere on campus,” Bulović says: The facility is situated as far as possible from the noise of city streets and subway and train lines that flank MIT’s campus.

Indeed, protection from these sources of noise and mechanical vibration dictated the building’s location, from among five campus sites that were considered. According to national standards on ambient vibration, Bulović says, parts of MIT.nano will rate two levels better than the standard typically used for such high-quality imaging spaces.

Another important goal of the building’s design — by Wilson Architects in Boston — is the creation of environments that foster interactions among users, including those from different disciplines. The building’s location at a major campus “crossroads,” its extensive use of glass walls that allow views into lab and cleanroom areas, and its soaring lobbies and other common areas are all intended to help foster such interactions.

“Nanoscale research is inherently interdisciplinary, and this building was designed to encourage collaboration,” Bulović says.

The choice of MIT.nano’s central location is not without compromise, Bulović says: There is very limited access to the construction site — only three access roads, each with limited headroom — so planning for the activities of construction and delivery vehicles, and for the demolition of the current Building 12 and construction of MIT.nano, will present a host of logistical challenges. “It’s like building a ship in a bottle,” Bulović says.

But addressing those challenges will ultimately be well worth it, he says, pointing out that an estimated one-quarter of MIT’s graduate students and 20 percent of its researchers will make use of the facility. The new building “signifies the centrality of nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing for the needs of the 21st century. It will be a key innovation hub for the campus.”

All current occupants of Building 12 will be relocated by June, when underground facilities work, to enable building construction, will commence; at that point, fences will be erected around the constriction zone. The existing Building 12 will be demolished in spring 2015 and construction of MIT.nano is slated to begin in summer 2015.

An April 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features an MIT researcher and research that seems ideally suited to this building initiative (Note: A link has been removed),

Skylar Tibbits … was constructing a massive museum installation with thousands of pieces when he had an epiphany. “Imagine yourself facing months on end assembling this thing, thinking there’s got to be a better way,” he says. A designer and architect, Tibbits was accustomed to modeling and fabricating his complex, architecturally sophisticated sculptures with computation. It suddenly struck him: “With all this information that was used to design the structure and communicate with fabrication machines, there’s got to be a way these parts can build themselves.”

This idea propelled Tibbits to enroll at MIT for dual master’s degrees in computer science, and design and computation — in pursuit of the idea, Tibbits says, “that you could program everything from bits, to atoms, and even large-scale structures.”

Today, Tibbits is breathing life into this vision. A research scientist in the Department of Architecture, and a TED2012 Senior Fellow, Tibbits has launched the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT, where like-minded engineers, scientists, designers, and architects transform commonplace materials into responsive, “smart” materials that can coalesce to form structures, all on their own. Deploying such novel techniques as 4-D printing in collaboration with Stratasys, a firm at the forefront of three-dimensional modeling, Tibbits is experimenting with new products and processes from nano to human scale. [emphasis mine]

An April 24, 2014 MIT news release expands on this “nano to human scale” research,

Although still in its infancy, Tibbits’s research might someday make a profound impact on building and construction. One project, called Logic Matter, encodes simple decision-making in a materials, using only that substance’s properties, shape, and geometry. Bricks, for instance, could be programmed to analyze their own loading conditions or orientation and might contain blueprints to build a wall or guide someone in the construction process. “We don’t have to change what we build with,” Tibbits says. “We take seemingly dumb materials and make them more responsive by combining them in elegant ways with geometry and activation energy.”

Natural processes — such as the replication of DNA, protein folding, and the growth of geometrically perfect crystals — inspired Tibbits. He knew these systems — which build complex structures extremely efficiently and can replicate and repair themselve — depend on a common formula: a simple sequence of instructions, programmable parts, energy, and some type of error correction. Mastering this recipe opens up a world of useful applications, Tibbits believes.

One illustrative project underway in Tibbits’s lab may lead to more resilient and efficient infrastructure. He is trying to program a type of peristalsis in water pipes, so they contract and relax like muscles. Unlike current pipes, which tend to break and require constant monitoring and energy input, Tibbits’s pipes can expand and shrink in response to changes in water volume, and could eventually undulate to abet flow. The goal is a “self-regulating system,” where pipes could even repair themselves in case of a puncture.

Self-assembling technologies may eventually help build space structures whose components deposit themselves in zero gravity environments without human intervention, and edifices that become more resilient in response to “noisy and potentially dangerous energies” from phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, Tibbits says. These ideas may seem hard to believe, but “there are structures we can’t build today” that demand new approaches, Tibbits says. “We must ask where self-assembly can solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.”

I can’t resist the image MIT has provided,

Skylar Tibbits’s fluid crystallization project: Self-assembly holds the promise of breakthroughs in many fields. Photo: Len Rubenstein Courtesy: MIT

Skylar Tibbits’s fluid crystallization project: Self-assembly holds the promise of breakthroughs in many fields.
Photo: Len Rubenstein Courtesy: MIT

You can visit Tibbits’s MIT Self-Assembly Lab here.

LEGO serious play and Arizona State University’s nanotechnology* ethics and society project*

Arizona State University (ASU) is receiving a $200,000 grant for undergraduates to ‘play seriously’ according to an April 10, 2014 news item on Azonano,

ASU undergraduates have the opportunity to enroll in a challenging course this fall, designed to re-introduce the act of play as a problem-solving technique. The course is offered as part of the larger project, Cross-disciplinary Education in Social and Ethical Aspects of Nanotechnology, which received nearly $200,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Nano Undergraduate Education program.

An April 6, 2014 ASU news release, which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

The project is the brainchild of Camilla Nørgaard Jensen, a doctoral scholar in the ASU Herberger Institute’s design, environment and the arts doctoral program. Participants will use an approach called LEGO Serious Play to solve what Jensen calls “nano-conundrums” – ethical dilemmas arising in the field of nanotechnology.

“LEGO Serious Play is an engaging vehicle that helps to create a level playing field, fostering shared conversation and exchange of multiple perspectives,” said Jensen, a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator. “This creates an environment for reflection and critical deliberation of complex decisions and their future impacts.”

LEGO Serious Play methods are often used by businesses to strategize and encourage creative thinking. In ASU’s project, students will use LEGO bricks to build metaphorical models, share and discuss their creations, and then adapt and respond to feedback received by other students. The expectation is that this activity will help students learn to think and communicate “outside the box” – literally and figuratively – about their work and its long-term societal effects.

This project was piloted, from the news release (Note: A link has been removed),

Fifteen engineering students enrolled in the Grand Challenge Scholar Program participated in a Feb. 24 [20??] pilot workshop to test project strategies. Comments from students included, “I experienced my ideas coming to life as I built the model,” and “I gained a perspective as to how ideas cannot take place entirely in the head.” These anecdotal outcomes confirmed the team’s assumptions that play and physical activity can enhance the formation and communication of ideas.

This is a cross-disciplinary effort (from the news release),

“Technology is a creative and collaborative process,” said Seager [Thomas Seager, an associate professor and Lincoln Fellow of Ethics and Sustainability in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment], who is principal investigator for the grant. “I want a classroom that will unlock technology creativity, in which students from every discipline can be creative. For me, overcoming obstacles to communication is just the first step.”

Seager’s work teaching ethical reasoning skills to science and engineering graduate students will help inform the project. Selin’s [Cynthia Selin, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society] research on the social implications of new technologies, and Hannah’s [Mark Hannah, an assistant professor in the rhetoric and composition program in the ASU Department of English] expertise in professional and technical communication will facilitate the dialogue-based approach to understanding the communication responsibilities of transdisciplinary teams working in nanotechnology. A steering committee of 12 senior advisers is helping to guide the project’s progress.

“Being a new scientific field that involves very complex trade-offs and risk when it comes to implementation, the subject of ethics in nanoscience is best addressed in a transdisciplinary setting. When problems are too complex to be solved by one discipline alone, the approach needs to go beyond the disciplinary silos,” said Jensen.

“As we train the next generation of students to understand the opportunities and responsibilities involved in creating and using emerging technologies that have the potential to benefit society, we need to advance our capacity to teach diverse stakeholders how to communicate effectively,” said Jensen.

I last wrote about play and nanotechnology in an Aug. 2, 2013 posting about training teachers how to introduce nanotechnology to middle schoolers. As for ASU, they’ve had a rich week with regard to funding, in an April 8, 2014 posting, i described a $5M grant for a multi-university project, the Life Cycle of Nanomaterials Network headquartered at ASU.

* Added ‘o’ to the nantechnology so it now reads correctly as nanotechnology and added a space between the words ‘society’ and ‘project’ in the head for this post.

Oxford’s 2014 Nanotechnology Summer School

Here’s some information about Oxford’s sixth annual nanotechnology summer programme from a March 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The theme of the sixth annual Oxford Nanotechnology Summer School in 2014 will be ‘An Introduction to Bionanotechnology’.

Each year Oxford’s Nanotechnology Summer School focuses on applications of nanotechnologies in a different field. Comprising presentations from leading researchers and practitioners from the University of Oxford and beyond, the Nanotechnology Summer School is essential for anyone with an interest in these topics.

There’s more about the summer school on the University of Oxford’s Nanotechnology Summer School 2014’s course page,

This five-day intensive course provides a thorough introduction to the exciting and emerging field of bionanotechnology. Each of the five days of the Nanotechnology Summer School has a dedicated theme and is led by key researchers in the field. The course will be valuable to those seeking an introduction to current research and applications in the subject.

The first day of the Summer School gives an introduction to cell biology and bionanotechnology. The following four days focus on bioanalytical techniques; applied genomics and proteomics; nanoparticles, nanostructures and biomimetics; and the interaction of nanomaterials with biological systems, respectively.

The full Summer School programme will be as follows:

For those who like to know about the costs and attendance options (from the course page),

Payment

Summer School fees include electronic course materials, tuition, refreshments and three-course lunches. The price does not include accommodation. All courses are VAT exempt. There may also be some social events on certain days of the Summer School.

Student discounts

We offer a discounted fee to students in higher education. The student fee rate for five days of the Nanotechnology Summer School is £680.00. It is not possible to enrol online if you wish to take the course at a discounted rate. To apply at the discounted rate, please contact us for details: email [email protected].

Alumni Card-holders discount

Alumni Card-holders benefit from a 10% discount* on the Nanotechnology Summer School. If you wish to enrol, please remember to quote the code given in e-Pidge to ensure you receive your discount.

* This offer is subject to availability, cannot be used retrospectively or in conjunction with any other offers or concessions available from either the University of Oxford or the Department for Continuing Education.

Fee options

Programme Fee
Five Days – Standard Fee: £1340.00
Five Days – Student Fee: £680.00
One Day – Standard Rate: £295.00
One Day – Student Rate: £150.00

Here’s how you can apply,

Please note that we cannot accept applications from those who are under 18 years of age.

You can apply for this course in the following ways:

Apply online
enrol onlineto secure your place on this course now
Apply by post, email or fax
PDF application form PDF document.

Terms and Conditions (important: please read before applying) .
Guidance Notes (important: please read before applying) PDF document.

Good luck1

Simply Nano1, a nano teaching tool kit for 7th – 10th grades

A Swiss business (The Innovation Society)  has developed a nano teaching kit, according to a Nov. 7, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: Links have been removed),

The new “SimplyNano1″ experimental kit is now also available in English and Russian in addition to German and French. Thus, the experimental kit is available internationally as nano-teaching tool to Anglo-Saxon and Russian schools. The new experimental kit “SimplyNano 1″ was developed by the SimplyScience foundation together with The Innovation Society, St.Gallen and is already in use at over 600 schools in Switzerland. The case contains experiments from the world of nanotechnology, for example a LEGO model of an atomic force microscope with the corresponding software.

The project partner, the SimplyScience Foundation can be found here.You will need either French or German language skills to read the material on their website.

Here’s a bit more about the SimplyNano 1 kit (from the news item),

In the first edition of the “SimplyNano 1″ experimental kit 850 kits were produced in German and French. In Switzerland the teaching tool is already used at 600 secondary schools. The response of teachers and schools is very positive and the demand is high. The experiments can be used in biology, chemistry or physics classes. The introduction of the “SimplyNano 1″ experimental kit is accompanied with teaching courses that demonstrate the use of the kit.

I have seen the kit on The Innovation Society website. The English language version is called: SimplyNano 1: nano box, while the others are identified in this fashion: SimplyNano1 (russian) and SimplyNano1 (french). I could not find the German language version of the kit was on the website Menu, under Training and Education where I found the other versions. There does not seem to be a store on the website, but there is a contact email link at the bottom of each kit’s webpage.