California NanoSystems Institute
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December 15, 2016 - CNSI Volunteers teach families about nanotechnology through fun demonstrations in native language

By: Meghan Steele Horan

Every year, Cal State University (CSU) hosts tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking students and their families to take part in Feria de Educación, or “Education Fair” providing educational and college preparatory services, learning opportunities, and fun-filled family activities to the Latino community.

On Oct. 15, CSU Northridge was overflowed with children, students, and family members eager to visit various booths and participate in events such as a children’s book giveaway and a visualization activity where kids dressed up in the uniform of a profession they aspire to, including doctors and astronauts.

For the first time, volunteer scientists, graduate students, and staff from the California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI) engaged and interacted with students and their families, introducing various science concepts and nanotechnology through hands-on kid-friendly demonstrations.

Many of these students and their families are from underserved communities, especially in regards to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. “It’s so important for STEM to reach underserved communities because we see time and time again how diverse communities and workplaces function better. When you have more points of view looking at a problem, you can get more solutions,” said Rita Blaik, CNSI Education Manager. “So we are trying to do our part to inspire a rich and diverse set of next-generation scientists. Giving local underserved communities access to unique and quality science education is also important to our mission and the University of California’s mission of public service, and the Latino community is a big part of the LA public.”

While children and students were more responsive and engaged with English, having Spanish-speaking volunteers was key in explaining the science and nanotechnology concepts to adults. “I would see people walk along the periphery of our stand, hesitant to approach our big group.” said Erick Harr, a UCLA chemistry graduate student volunteering at CNSI’s booth. “Adults became engaged very easily when approached by a Spanish speaker. They would immediately perk up and give the discussion their full attention. I was thrilled with the huge turnout we got and with all the energy everyone at the fair brought with them!”

Various nanotechnology demonstrations were on display, including a self-assembly sphere. “How are you built?” volunteers asked event patrons. “How are the molecules inside you put together?” Adults and children alike took in the questions posed to them, allowing them to think critically while rolling a sphere containing 3D printed pieces that spontaneously self-assemble into a dodecahedron, or a 12 sided object. When agitated, the pieces self-assemble due to the balance of attractive and repulsive forces based on the orientation of each magnet- serving as an analogy to attractive and repulsive forces of molecules inside the body.

Other nanotechnology demos included super hydrophobic materials such as magic sand, swim suits, and Teflon, which repel water due to nanoparticle coatings as well as biopolymers or expanding gels that take in water. A video of the event can be viewed on YouTube:

Feria de Educación is a partnership between the CSU Latino Initiative and Univision, which is the nation’s leading Spanish-language media company.

CNSI is committed to public outreach through educational programs and events, reaching k-12 and college students, teachers, families, and adults both in and out of a laboratory setting.

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