California NanoSystems Institute
CNSI
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Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Education
in The Los Angeles Unified School District

The CNSI is bringing nanoscience and nanotechnology experiments to high school students from the lowest performing public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Currently, graduate students and postdocs are working with over 35 high school science teachers from LAUSD on five different experiments that can be taught in the classroom. The funding for the program includes a grant from the UCLA in LA Community Partnership program and the Dreyfus Foundation.

The goal of this outreach program is to enrich science education in the LAUSD through the use of hands-on experiments in nanoscience and nanotechnology. The organizers -- graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from the basic sciences and engineering -- have designed and conducted a number of workshops for high school science teachers from LAUSD. The teachers are taught how to do the experiments with their students; educated on the scientific background needed to understand and explain the experiments to their students; and shown how the experiments fit with the California state science standards. The outreach program is providing all of the necessary supplies to the LAUSD teachers so that they can perform these experiments in their classrooms.

View the current schedule of events

The program is spearheaded by Professor Sarah Tolbert who is a chemistry professor specializing in nanoscience, and Irene Swanson and Priscilla Lee, both of from the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSE&IS). Irene is the director of science projects at Center X, which is the outreach arm of GSE&IS. In addition, the program includes students from the NSF sponsored Materials Creation IGERT (Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training) program.

The experiments include:

Self-Assembly – One of the most important concepts of nanoscience is the idea that molecules can spontaneously form complex structures because of the unique interactions between neighboring molecules. Unfortunately, these complex structures cannot be seen with the naked eye so the students will be taught this exercise by using the macroscopic versions of molecules – floating plastic magnetic shapes - to examine the spontaneous generation of new structures. This is the exact same phenomenon that occurs on the nanometer length scales with atoms and molecules.

Magnetic Fluids – In this experiment, students synthesize iron oxide (magnetite) nanocrystals through the basic hydrolysis of a combination of salts. Because of the small size of the crystallites, they can be truly dissolved in much of the same way that a protein can be dissolved. As a result, they produce a magnetic fluid, which is often called a ferrofluid. The dissolved magnets illustrate one of the key points of nanoscience – by mixing things on the nanometer length scale, one can create hybrid materials that retain the properties of both components. In this case, the system is a fluid which flows easily, but is also magnetic and can be moved around using a simple bar magnet.

Solar Cells – The need for renewable energy is becoming more imperative, but the cost of building solar panels today is unfortunately too costly to make widespread. Recent advances in nanotechnology, however, have shown that some completely new designs can potentially be used to produce solar cells from much cheaper materials than those the typical silicon cell. In this experiment, students construct a functioning solar cell using nanoscale titania and a substitute, non-toxic dye, from the red coloring in cherries and raspberries. When a bright light is shone on their new solar panel, students will be able to see how it generates a significant amount of voltage thus creating new sources of energy.

Photolithography – In this experiment students produce a series of tiny lines, difficult to see with the naked eye, using photolithography – a process of using light to transfer a pattern onto a surface. A mask with tiny lines is placed on a copper film of an insulating surface, and then subsequently covered by a polymer. It is then exposed to UV black light, which creates a metal pattern that corresponds to the lines in the original mask. This top-down approach to nanotechnology is commonly used in manufacturing computer chips.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope – In this experiment, students will make us of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to “see” the nanoscale world. The microscope works by moving a conducting tip over a surface. The tip moves up and down in response to the bumps and dips on the surface in order to maintain a constant current flow. While students will not be able to see individual atoms, they will be able to see very small structures. By calculating how many tens of thousands of atoms make up these structures, they can start to see the fantastic potential for building small structures and for how much complexity can be packed into a tiny space.

Summary of Polyaniline Sensors – An important concept in nanotechnology is the idea that many smaller objects have a much larger surface area than one big object. In this lab, students can observe this phenomenon through the creation of sensors. Polyaniline, a conducting organic polymer, can sense the presence of acid or base in the air. Because sensitivity increases with surface area, students observe a large change in conductivity when using polyaniline nanocrystals to sense vinegar and ammonia vapors.

Training Program - The program is spearheaded by Professor Sarah Tolbert who is a chemistry professor specializing in nanoscience, along with Irene Swanson and Priscilla Lee of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSE&IS). Irene is the director of science projects at Center X, which is the outreach arm of GSE&IS. In addition, the program includes students from the NSF sponsored Materials Creation Training Program IGERT (Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training) program.

Additional information on these experiments can be found at http://voh.chem.ucla.edu/outreach.php3

News articles on the CNSI outreach program can be found at:
UCLA Today -- http://www.today.ucla.edu/2003/030812hs_nanoscience.html

If you are a UCLA student interested in participating in this outreach program, please contact Professor Sarah Tolbert at Tolbert@chem.ucla.edu