Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Demystifying the world of the nanometer

Lehigh materials science and engineering students conduct many kinds of experiments, but few are as fun as smashing chocolate with a pendulum impact tester.

That activity is designed to grab kids’ attention this Saturday (March 27) at the 2010 NanoDays Celebration at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown. Co-hosted by the Center and Lehigh, the event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Materials science and engineering professors Rick Vinci and Sabrina Jedlicka and 30 undergraduate members of Lehigh’s Student Materials Society, led by Riyanka Pai ‘10 and MariAnne Sullivan’11, will help kids in first through fifth grades understand nanotechnology’s possibilities.

About 200 NanoDays, all organized by members of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, are taking place across the U.S. this week. Lehigh’s participation is funded by the Student Materials Society, the Student Senate and the National Science Foundation.

Vinci says NanoDays is designed to demystify an invisible world based on the nanometer. One nanometer equals one-billionth of a metter.

Giving invisible superpowers to everyday materials

“The nano world is not usually accessible to kids,” Vinci says. “We want them to understand that we’re talking about really small scales of measurement, and that knowing what happens to objects at these scales gives materials invisible superpowers.”

“There will be things that go pop,” says Vinci. “The kids will get to squirt things with squirt guns, they can get a little messy and no one will mind.”

Vinci will give a lunchtime lecture on the uses of nanomaterials, which range from stain-resistant clothing made of nanofibers to research into the generation of electricity through body motions, which could find applications in pacemakers and other life-saving devices.

“With nanotechnology you can add new functions to pre-existing materials and do so unnoticeably because the additions are so small,” he says. “These additions can essentially disappear into the material—and provide a new property or benefit that the material couldn’t otherwise perform.

“The goal of NanoDays is to create a tangible association. We want kids to hear ‘nanotechnology’ and associate it with real things—better clothing, improved power production, better ink jet printers—as opposed to a vague word.”

The nonprofit Da Vinci Science Center partners with Lehigh and other organizations on exhibits and educational programs.

Terry J. Hart ‘68, professor of practice in the department of mechanical engineering and mechanics and former NASA astronaut, is community chairman of the Da Vinci Science Center’s 2010 Science Hall of Fame Awards.

NanoDays 2010 is open to anyone with paid Science Center admission. Two activities—Stained Glass (1:30 p.m.) and Chocolate Composites (2:30 p.m.)—will be presented to the first 30 registered children. Lehigh students with Lehigh ID will receive a $2 discount on their admission price. To register, contact the Da Vinci Science Center at 484-664-1002, ext. 110.


Story by Allyson Planders

Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

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