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New book gets kids excited about nanotechnology

Having been an undergraduate English major, Andrea Harmer admits she is not a scientist. “I call myself a science translator,” Harmer, the director of Web-based education for the Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology at Lehigh (CAMN), says.

Harmer’s graduate work in the College of Education is focused in adolescent scientific inquiry. This combination of interests has led Harmer to write and self-publish Nanotechnology for Grades 1-6 , the first learning tool of its kind that the author says she wrote, “to get the students fired up about science and have a little bit of fun doing it.”

The study of nanotechnology refers to the creation of materials and devices through the control of matter at the atomic and molecular level, where completely new properties exist. Scientists acknowledge that nanotechnology will have tremendous impact biologically, environmentally, scientifically, and technically within the next twenty years.

“Nanotechnology is going to be a part of all our lives,” says Harmer. “Young students should know about it, and hopefully get excited about this cutting-edge field.”

The word nanotechnology is derived from the word ‘nano,’ meaning dwarf. A nanometer (nm) is a measurement equaling one-billionth of a meter.

Harmer’s book on the topic, which will be available in four to five weeks, provides a glimpse into nanotechnology through the perspective of a girl, around age 10, and her dog.

The book creatively compares the Nanotechnology building block, the buckyball, to a soccer ball. This analogy is then applied to larger objects like a school bus. By using comparisons that children can understand and apply to their everyday lives, Harmer hopes that the book will allow students to understand the basics and generate interest.

Harmer also raises ethical questions in her text to bring issues to light and let students come to their own conclusions. There are activities for students, as well as a glossary of terms at the conclusion of the book.

The author says the book was truly a family effort. Harmer’s 10-year old daughter created many of the drawings featured throughout the book. And her husband Martin Harmer, director of CAMN, fact-checked the book to make sure it was scientifically accurate.

“Science is like another language,” Harmer says. “So if you stumble, you get an expert to help you.”

So far, the book has been extremely well received by over 300 local students and their parents, says Harmer. Harmer hopes to write a sequel that will focus on applications of Nanotechnology.

For more information on the book, as well as other ongoing projects, click here

--Blair Tapper

Posted on Thursday, April 21, 2005

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