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!). The development of engineered nanomaterials has applications in such diverse fields as energy capture and storage devices, delivery of pharmaceuticals, environmental health and safety (related to both natural and engineered materials), and development of next generation computational devices. Nanotechnology is and will be a major economic driver into the 21st Century, and there is high demand for a workforce trained in the methods of characterization and fabrication of nanoparticles. The National Nantoechnology Initiative Strategic Plan (PCAST, 2014) has set four goals: 1) Advance a world-class nanotechnology research and development program, 2) Foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit, 3) Develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and a dynamic infrastructure and toolset to advance nanotechnology, and 4) Support responsible development of nanotechnology.

This website has been developed to meet the need of introducing nanotechnology education across the STEM curriculum:

  • For faculty, resources, tutorials, course descriptions, and teaching activities are provided to facilitate instruction in nanotechnology within established STEM courses or in a dedicated course on nanotechnology;
  • For students, resources are provided to introduce and expand student understanding of nanotechnology, and to prepare for potential careers in nanotechnology.

What is Nanotechnology?

"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.

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Why Teach Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology provides the framework for exciting frontier research. Training of undergraduate students in the concepts and skills required to do research in nanotechnology is Nanotechnology is also an important economic driver with wide applications in industry. There is a high demand for students who are prepared with 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.

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How to Teach Nanotechnology?

Effective instruction in nanotechology must adhere to best practices in STEM education: active learning. Students should learn science by doing science. This module provides 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.

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Instructional Resources

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.

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Tutorials on Nanoscience Instruments and Methods

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, and b) nanomanufacturing and fabrication 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.

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Ethics and Nanotechnology

This module provides foundational information on ethical principles as applied to 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.

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Nanotechnology/Science Links

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.

Get Involved

  • Contribute Materials: We encourage faculty to contribute course descriptions, teaching activities, and references to continue to build our collections.
  • Got a minute or two to provide feedback on the site? We invite you to complete this user survey.
  • Email list: Join the TeachNano email list to take part in discussions with colleagues who teach about nanoscience. If you subscribe to the lists, you can also access past emails using the list archives.

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