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New book aims to excite kids about nanotechnology

Andrea Harmer's new book, "Nanotechnology for Grades 1-6 ," uses soccer balls and school buses to explain one of the most important new fields in science and engineering.

Having been an undergraduate English major, Andrea Harmer admits she is not a scientist. "I call myself a science translator," says Harmer, who directs web-based education for the Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Harmer's graduate work in the College of Education is focused on adolescent scientific inquiry. Her varied interests have led Harmer to write and self-publish "Nanotechnology for Grades 1-6 ," whose goal, she says, is "to get students fired up about science and have a little bit of fun doing it."

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 believe nanotechnology will have great impact biologically, environmentally, scientifically, and technically over the next 20 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, 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 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 enable students to grasp 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 a family effort. Harmer's 10-year-old daughter created many of the drawings in 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 well received by over 300 local students and their parents, says Harmer, who hopes to write a sequel that will focus on applications of nanotechnology.

For more information on the book and on other projects, visit http://www.lehigh.edu/~inimagin/

-Blair Tapper '05

Posted on Thursday, May 05, 2005

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