Birck hosts hands-on NanoDays for K-12 students, teachers, general public

April 17, 2012

David Sederberg, outreach coordinator for Purdue's Department of Physics and a doctoral student in curriculum and instruction, shows his young audience ferro fluid, a type of magnetic liquid, during Purdue NanoDays 2011. (Purdue University photo/Jeff Goecker)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Nearly 2,000 elementary, middle and high school students are expected to descend onto the Purdue University campus April 26-27 for NanoDays 2012 to gain a deeper understanding of the fascinating world of nanotechnology.

Next week's NanoDays 2012, organized by the Birck Nanotechnology Center and involving more than 250 volunteers from Discovery Park and across campus, is taking the theme, The Biggest Event for the Smallest Science. The third annual event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, is free and open to the public.

"The activities are primarily designed for students at the K-12 level, but people of all ages will have the opportunity to learn something new about nanotechnology and its role in many of the technological advances in our world today," said Monica Allain, managing director at Birck.

NanoDays, co-sponsored by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and nanotechnology's potential impact on the future.

Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, manipulate and manufacture objects between 1 and 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers in diameter.

Jeff Goecker, communication specialist at Birck, said the goal of NanoDays is for people of all ages to learn the basic concepts of nanotechnology in a fun and visually exciting environment. He points to a broad lineup of hands-on activities, games demonstrations and talks over the two days:

* Exploring Forces - Static Electricity. This activity highlights how electrostatic forces cause smaller balls to be suspended in a tube while larger ones fall to the bottom. You also learn that size can affect the way a material behaves.

* Exploring Structures. Visitors create a necklace of wheat germ DNA, learning that self-assembly is a process by which molecules and cells form themselves into functional structures. You also will investigate the role that nanotechnology plays in how butterfly wings get their color.

* Exploring Materials. These activities -- focusing on nano gold, hydrogel and graphene to ferrofluid, thin films and liquid crystals -- show how nanoparticles of certain materials can behave differently when it's nanometer-sized.

* Exploring Fabrication. Visitors make self-assembled polymer spheres, learning how molecules and cells form themselves into functional structures. They can play full-body interactive games to model the process of self-assembly in nature and nanotechnology. In a mock cleanroom, students can dress up in cleanroom garments and view microstructures and devices designed and developed at Birck.

* Exploring Measurement. You can mark your height, hands and feet to see your measurements at the nanoscale level.

* Exploring Products. Examine nano fabrics, for example, showing how the application of nano-sized whiskers can protect clothing from stains, as well as nano sand activity to see how water behaves differently when it comes in contact with nano sand and regular sand.

* Exploring Tools. Use a flexible magnet as a model for a scanning probe microscope, demonstrating how this special research tool helps scientists work at the nanoscale.

Science Café lectures from Purdue researchers also will be offered. Faculty and staff on both days will give 20-minute mini-lectures, which are intended for audiences at the fifth-grade level and older. Topics: How to create nanoparticles, how to use nanoparticles to treat cancer, thin films and a demonstration, "Nano Ice Cream," for the younger future nanoscientists.

Visitors can park in the three southernmost rows of the lot and along the west side of Airport Road without a pass. Additional parking passes are available from Purdue's Visitor Information Center, 504 Northwestern Ave. For visitors with a pass, parking for activities is available in all A, B and C spots in the lot at the corner of Martin Jischke and Nimitz drives.

Primary sponsors are Indianapolis law firm Barnes and Thornburg LLC, Nanovis Inc., Purdue Office of Engagement, Conexus Indiana, Purdue Research Park, Verso Paper and Nano Professor. Additional supporters are the National Science Foundation, Intel Corp., Marco's Pizza, AJ's Burgers and Beef, Panera Bread Co., Discovery Park and Birck.
Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Sources:  Monica Allain, 765-494-5138,
                  Jeff Goecker, 765-765-494-7716, 

Related websites:
Discovery Learning Research Center