Teaching Nanotechnology Across the Undergraduate STEM Curriculum

Nanotechnology is an exciting emerging field of research with applications in all STEM disciplines including the physical, chemical, life, Earth and environmental sciences and allied disciplines in materials science and engineering. Nanotechnology provides unprecedented opportunities for frontier research at the interfaces between these STEM disciplines by studying the properties of materials on the nanoscale (~1 billionth of a meter!).

This website serves as an on-ramp to providing the fundamental concepts of nanotechnology education across the STEM curriculum:

  • For faculty, vetted background resources, curated teaching methods, analytic tutorials, and expert ideas on opportunities are provided to facilitate emerging instruction in nanotechnology within Earth and Environmental Science courses;
  • For students, resources are provided to introduce and expand student understanding of nanotechnology, and to prepare for potential careers in nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology: An Emerging Science

"Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers (nm), where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale" (PCAST 2014).

"Unusual physical, chemical, and biological properties can emerge in materials at the nanoscale. These properties may differ in important ways from the properties of bulk materials and single atoms or molecules." We focus on two critical aspects of nanotechnology:

  1. Characterization of the composition, structure, and physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles using an arsenal of imaging and analytical/spectroscopic methods, and
  2. Microfabrication/manufacturing methods used to produce next-generation engineered nanomaterials.

Nanotechnology has enabled development of entirely new materials and devices that can be exploited in each of these and countless other applications. Importantly, nanoparticles (engineered and naturally-occurring) in the Earth system are now recognized as playing an important role in global biogeochemical cycling, as reactants and products of chemical reactions, as new classes of potential environmental toxins, and as potential disruptors of metabolic functions.

Nanotechnology Background »

An Emerging Teaching Opportunity

Nanotechnology provides the framework for exciting frontier research. Training of undergraduate students in the concepts and skills required to do research in nanotechnology is also an important economic driver with wide applications in industry. There is a high demand for students who have mastered the concepts and skills to engage this research in both the academy and in the industrial sector. This module explores the future directions in nanotechnology research and development

If you have a nanoscience relevant education materials, please contribute them as teaching activity or course description.

An Emerging Teaching Opportunity »

Evidence-based Teaching Practices

While nanoscience is new to STEM education, effective teaching practices are well researched and established. Students learn science best by doing science. This module provides curated information on effective instructional practices through the Pedagogy in Action project, Course Design principles through the On the Cutting Edge program, best practices in designing and developing research projects that can be embedded in classes, developed as independent research projects, or pursued through REU programs or internships with industry. Nanotechnology is inherently interdisciplinary, and this presents opportunities and challenges in developing effective instructional programs.

Currently, not many ready-to-use nanoscience teaching materials exist, and this site serves as a resource and opportunity to build materials.

If you would like to contribute to building a collection of relevant nanoscience education materials, please submit a teaching activity or course description.

Evidence-based Teaching Practices »

Background Nanoscience Resources for Instructors

Nanotechnology experts collaborated at three workshops to compile the most up-to-date and useful resources available for Earth and Environmental Science instructors. This is a collection of resources to help get you started teaching about nanotechnology. This collection includes links to national reports (goals and recommendations), books, journal articles, multimedia, and webpages.

Background Nanoscience Resources for Instructors »

Nanoscience Literature for Earth and Environmental Science

Many geoscientists are currently contributing to nanoscience, although they may not recognize this as nanoscience. For example, work in microplastics in the environment, fly ash from coal-fired power plants, colloids and clay minerals in soils, and the products of acid mine drainage are all simultaneously the focus of geoscience and nanoscience research. Twp review articles provide the context for engagement of nanoscience in the Earth and environmental sciences: Hochella et al., 2008, Nanominerals, Mineral Nanoparticles, and Earth Systems and Hochella et al., 2019, Natural, incidental, and engineered nanomaterials and their impacts on the Earth system. This module provides a vetted collection of recommended Nanoscience literature developed by the collaborative efforts of expert workshop participants. Listed by topic, this curated collection can help Earth and Environmental Science instructors get up to speed on nanoscience topics that can be incorporated into teaching and research.

Have you discovered a nanoscience resource/article that is particularly interesting or important? Please Contribute a Resource.

Nanoscience Literature for Earth and Environmental Science »

Needs and Opportunities

This page brings the conversations and ideas from Nanoscience expert workshop participants to you! Nanoscience in the Earth and Environmental Sciences is ripe with possibilities for research and engaging your students.

Needs and Opportunities »

Instruments and Analytical Methods Commonly Used in Material Characterization in Nanoscience

This module provides "primers" or tutorials on a number of instruments and methods that are commonly used to a) characterize nanoparticles through imaging and spectroscopic methods. The purpose of this project is to supply an on-line tutorial of the analytical techniques commonly used to characterize geological materials. The goal is to help novices (e.g. students, or scientists working out of their field) to become critical consumers and producers of data using the arsenal of methods used to characterize and develop nanoparticles. Additional resources are provided for those who want to pursue more in-depth exploration of these methods.

Instruments and Analytical Methods Common in Nano »

Ethics and Nanotechnology

This module provides foundational information on ethical principles as applied to responsible conduct of research AND personal behaviors, professional conduct, responsible interactions with the civic community, and impacts on planetary systems. Particular attention is paid to responsible conduct of research and professionalism in the STEM disciplines.

Ethics and Nanotechnology »

National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) and Related Programs

Learn more about national Initiatives and the resources available through the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure program, National Nanotechnology Initiative, and Nano.gov. These national programs have a wealth of information and resources available to support teaching and learning about nanotechnology/science.

Get Involved

Workshops & Events

Numerous workshops have been convened in recent years to a) introduce nanoscience to new audiences, b) aggregate and disseminate information about new advances in nanoscience, and c) to begin to build robust, interdisciplinary communities to engage more researchers, instructors and students in nanoscience. Each of the following workshop webpages contains the programs with links to all presentations that are available for you to use, along with summaries of group discussions on related topics of interest.Explore events »

Contribute Resources

Construction and development of these web-based resources is being done for and by the nanoscience community. We rely on your suggestions and contributions of resources that you have developed, or that you routinely use in your research and teaching about nanoscience. The ethic is everyone has something to offer; and together, we all have a lot to gain. So, please access the following link to help keep these collections current, coherent, and comprehensive. Thank you.

  • Contribute Materials: We encourage faculty to contribute course descriptions, teaching activities, and references to continue to build our collections.

Feedback Needed

Got a minute or two to provide feedback on the site? Let us know what you've found that is interesting or important. What's missing?  What can we provide to help you do your work in nanoscience?  The survey only takes a minute or two to complete.

Get Connected

We support this listserv to support colleagues interested in research and teaching applications of nanoscience. This is a great forum to pose questions, ask advice, find references and resources....someone on this list probably has an instant answer to your questions.  The listserv was originally created for alumni of the workshops we convened, but it is open to all colleagues interested in pursuing interests in nanoscience.

Recently published: Review articles on nanoscience in the Earth and Environmental Sciences by Hochella, M. F., Mogk, D. W., Ranville, J., Allen, I. C., Luther, G. W., Marr, L. C., McGrail, B. P., Murayama, M., Qafoku, N. P., Rosso, K. M., Sahai, N., Schroeder, P. A., Vikesland, P., Westerhoff, P., and Yang, Y., 2019, Natural, incidental, and engineered nanomaterials and their impacts on the Earth system: Science, v. 363, no. 6434, p. eaau8299. DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8299. This is the most comprehensive, up-to-date review of the many occurrences of nanoparticles in the Earth system, and the impacts they have on Earth processes and environmental and human health.

See also: Hochella, M. F., Lower, S. K., Maurice, P. A., Penn, R. L., Sahai, N., Sparks, D. L., and Twining, B. S., 2008, Nanominerals, mineral nanoparticles, and earth systems: Science, v. 319, no. 5870, p. 1631-1635.

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