If I could, I would write this post in teeny tiny little letters, as its’ all about our last science unit of the fall semester: nano science. Nanoscience is so new, so cutting edge, that finding enough materials for the unit was a challenge. Neither of our libraries had a single book on nanotechnology or nano science! The internet, of course, was ripe with websites and ideas, so that was direction we went.
After a few less than exciting months trying to dutifully slog through a packaged science curriculum we had decided to try, things were a bit uninspired in the science department at the Gerhardt Schoolhouse. And this in and of itself is a travesty, because no one loves science more than AJ, and the whole point of what we are doing is to feed the passion, not drown it! It felt a bit like the fire had been extinguished, and I was determined to light it again. I also was determined not to get bogged down in trying to meticulously plan the rest of the semester of science, I wanted it to be spontaneous and inquiry-driven.
With that in mind, we went to a great class at the museum center on Nanotechnology. As with all the classes we attend there, they always send us home with a pile of great readings and ideas. This time it included a copy of “NanoNews”, a magazine for kids on nano science (which I am totally ordering, by the way), as well as a few other hand outs full of facts, ideas, and the latest in the developing technology. The class was fascinating–the kids were able to do all kinds of experiments!
First of all, it seems important to clarify what nano science is all about. (Here is a cool website for kids that will explain it better than I could: http://www.nanowerk.com/n_neatstuff.php). You can tell this topic is cutting edge, because that website has none of these out of date, slightly lame websites. There’s all kinds of great resources: an online exhibit on nano science from the Science Museum in London, a way to test your nano-IQ, go on a Nano-mission, play games in nano space, and one we are still exploring: Geckoman.
We’re talking about particles so small, a microscope can’t even see them. At that size, nothing acts as expected. Gravity is not really relevant. Things like surface tension become a much bigger deal. As Ms. Karen (the museum teacher) explained, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what nano science is going to do someday. Right now, it has resulted in windows that repel dirt, and paint that resists stains, and that color match makeup. But as she told the kids, most likely they will be the ones to discover what nanotechnology really can do. How amazing is that to think about? And really, that class is full of amazingly smart homeschooled kids, so my money is on one of them becoming the Bill Gates of nanotechnology someday.
I was quite taken with nanotechnology. I don’t completely understand it (as with most things AJ has asked to study in recent memory), but that doesn’t intimidate me. I like learning about these things with him, because then the learning is driven by our actual questions. I am also hoping he is learning that it is okay to not know everything, and that learning goes on well past school age. There is something pretty captivating about learning about a technology so new.
Without books to wade through (and to clarify, there are certainly books on nanotechnology, but none at either of the libraries we have access to) we developed this unit as we went. We spent quite some time discussing what nanotechnology might be used for someday (windshields that repel water so we don’t need wipers? AJ was determined to develop something that eliminated the need for diapers. Maybe that will happen before he has to change any…).
My favorite part of this unit was an experiment we developed on the fly while pouring through the Nanonews. In a box on the side of a page, it asked us how many drops of water we thought could fit on the face of a penny. It’s only clue was: it’s more than you think! We developed this one together, and wanted to share it with you because we both had a great time with it.
Nano-cents Experiment (developed by AJ and Megan):
- Coins of various sizes (penny, nickel, dime, quarter–we also used some foreign coins just for fun, including a pound and a 2 Euro coin).
- Cup of water
- Piece of paper to record predictions and results
1. Begin with the penny. All students and teachers should make a prediction as to how many drops of water they think will fit on the penny before the water spills out onto the tabletop. Record all predictions (this is also a great time to talk about hypotheses testing and the scientific method).
2. Using the eyedropper, slowly start to drop the water onto the face of the penny. (Hint: this needs to be done by someone with a steady hand and some patience, so the drops come out one at a time, slow enough to count). Record the drops until the water seeps off the top of the coin onto the tabletop. Record the actual number and compare to your predictions. Why do you think the prediction was different from the actual result (assuming it was–it definitely was for us!)
3. Next, go back to the penny and repeat the experiment again. Not only is this a good way to demonstrate the importance of being able to replicate your results in science, it allows you time to really talk about and try to understand what is happening down on the nano-level. this experiment is all about surface tension, and how many droplets can truly hang together before that surface tension breaks and the water breaks loose. We played with this in a few ways before moving on to other coins, and these manipulations helped us with future predictions. For example, what happens if you start dropping the water off center on the coin, versus dropping it on the center? Why?
4. When you are ready to move on to other coins, make your predictions and record them on your sheet. How many droplets on a nickel? It’s bigger, so one would predict the drops would go up. But also think about the head on a nickel, versus Abe’s head on the penny. It’s bigger too, and of a higher height. Will that impact the surface tension? The space available for droplets?
5. Continue on with all the coins and compare your results.
Here is what it looked like in action:
We had a blast with this, and were able to think about the role forces like surface tension play at the nano level.
I’m looking forward to studying nanotechnology again in a few years, hopefully when even more resources are out there and more amazing things have been invented using the new technology!