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September 28th, 2011
I am starting this article with the exciting news I concluded my previous story: NT-MDT Co. recently announced that NanoEducator II - a new generation of training scientific laboratories for nanotechnology teaching - "…is the winner of the 49th Annual R&D 100 Awards, which salute the 100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year" (see here). This prestigious award (not the first one for the Company) was a successive recognition of a long and fruitful activity of the NT-MDT team in the field of not only nanoinstrumentation, but also nanoeducation.
Fig 1. NanoEducator by NT-MDT
This device comes with a set of accessories for introducing students to nanotechnology and gives them a basic understanding of how to perform experiments with objects at nanoscale level. The NanoEducator - a student- oriented Scanning Probe Microscope - is a powerful student's pass to the micro / nano world, developed for the first-time microscope users. One of major ideas behind the NanoEducator design was to capture the student's interest in science and train future nanotechnologists-to-be by utilizing advanced microscopy techniques. Comprehensive remote control from teacher's computer allows an interactive learning process. The teachers also excel their skills bringing their knowledge and enthusiasm back to their classrooms. By the way, the training process is a very cost-saving one as no consumable materials are used.
Fig.2. The scientific training laboratory - a class equipped with several Nanoeducator sets
The modern education demands not only excellent theoretical knowledge, but above all practical skills that would help the students to integrate into real world. Ability to work with equipment is required for natural science studies, but these skills become even more important for interdisciplinary areas such as nanotechnology.
The NanoEducators are magnificent tools for teaching at high schools, junior colleges, technical vocational training schools, as well as at universities. No wonder that NT-MDT Co. was commissioned by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to provide the NanoEducator scientific training laboratories for 35 institutions in the country. By the end of 2008 NT-MDT Co. fulfilled the Government original contract commitment. As of today more than 200 NanoEducator scientific training laboratories have been installed in Russia and more than 20 other countries abroad.
Being unique of this kind - NanoEducator quickly became widely acknowledged. It has been popular in public networks (such as Facebook and Twitter as well as among major players in high tech market (for instance, Coherent Inc.).
In 2010 NT-MDT impressed high tech market with a new breakthrough by introducing their latest development - NanoEducator II - the next generation training scientific laboratory. This new one represents a multipurpose complex both for scientific research and nanotechnology teaching, providing advanced features and possibilities: such as data sharing via iPhone and iPad; control via Internet, among them. This amazing product with its short, but fascinating history was deservedly acknowledged in 2011 with one of the most prestigious awards in the world of technology.
Fig. 3. NanoEducator II.
The progress of young Russian scientists in the field of nanotechnology became internationally recognized in large extent due to NT-MDT educating efforts and their NanoEducator lab. Thus it was the time to summarize the experience and instruct the teachers themselves. In May 2010 NT-MDT and one of well-known Russian scientific nanocenters - the Kurchatov Institute - arranged the first international conference "Nanoeducation: the main approaches and perspectives" with an unusual format - training for teachers on the nanoeducating equipment. More than 180 teachers and professors from Russia, United States, Europe, and CIS participated in this event. During the conference they had unprecedented opportunity to get training with NanoEducators. What was really important during this event - the teachers got acquainted with many university professors, who shared their experience and knowledge in the fields of education and instrumentation.
It is interesting to find out what the students and the teachers have to say about nanoeducation and NanoEducator itself, how they value all these educating efforts. At the Scientific-Practical School Conference "Step to the Future", 2009, it came out that the students had shown a great interest towards the pilot nanodiagnostics methods, they had been excited to investigate new scientific areas and even create and run their own projects - largest numbers of them were performed at the high schools equipped with NanoEducator labs. As a result of this conference a good number of students' presentations attracted attention of the prominent scientists and received numerous awards. Some of the final reports are posted on NT-MDT web site as excellent examples of the first results, received by potential next generation of scientists. All this was made possible thanks to the Scanning Probe Microscope "NanoEducator".
As for the teachers' opinions and evaluations- most of them are favorable, systematic, practical, and sometimes businesslike. You might want to see them here. There was a number of interesting ones voiced at the Conference "Education for Nanotechnology 2011". For instance, high school teachers from those who initially had not been in a position to understand how to use the highly sophisticated NanoEducators in their work with the students. After receiving a training and valuable input from the colleagues - already skilled teachers and university professors during numerous discussions and observations of best practices they consider the up-to-date modern equipment to be especially important at high and middle schools. It attracts the students' attention and keeps them interested and focused having fun while studying the subjects.
Another one, a college teacher from the remote Volga region, highlights emphasizes that existence of the NanoEducator in his disposition is a serious factor to increase the school reputation. Other schools, which are not that lucky to have it, could bring their teachers for training and the students to" play" with the equipment. Video interview with both of them, in Russian, during the Conference is here.
There is an impressive point of view of those who teach at both high schools and universities simultaneously. Their work at University has two major benefits for the school projects: first, there is a certain high level of performing and it broadens their vision letting them to provide a better training for the school students targeting for the future scientific work. They also try to involve the university students trained with NanoEducator in the learning process of the school students. Video interview with Irina and Michael P. whose statistics is incredible: 100% of their high school graduates enroll in the universities, 20% out of them planning to major in science.
At the global level, nanotechnology education of workforce has been discussed since the beginning of the new millennium. The general opinion is that scientists, engineers, and technicians should be trained in nanotechnology. There exist many strategies suggested. Most of educators prefer to train the students first in their own discipline at the Bachelor level (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) followed by specialization in nanoscience or nanotechnology at the Master's level. Some are in favor of a broad interdisciplinary basic training in different nanosciences followed by specialization in a particular application area. Many consider starting much earlier, at high school…
At NT-MDT they support an early nanoeducation start. They believe that nanotechnology, the cutting edge industry, suffers from lack of highly skilled specialists and a proper training shall start at the high school level, to be continued at colleges and universities. NT-MDT also pursues their own interest: thanks to their outreach activities and growing popularity they gather the top students from all over the country. This educational process is quite expensive, yet justified: later many of them become the Company employees. In near future due to booming demand for nanospecialists it would be possible to calculate the effectiveness of the nanoeducational projects at the high school level.
NT-MDT leaders are joking, that their goal is to help to change the existing education system in Russia. At least for the schools supposed to prepare broadly educated students for scientific and engineering jobs. Obviously, they are participating in the development of a pioneer Russian nanoeducation system. At least, they do their best to build a basis for the new industry, introducing the elements of advanced education for new workforce.
According to their General Director Victor Bykov NT-MDT has a mission "to …maintain a global perspective, always taking into consideration the needs of a student in the classroom…". NT-MDT has established an advanced training program and designed a cutting edge equipment to fulfill this goal. Their state-of-the-art training complex NanoEducator plays a tremendous role in the process of education of young Russian nanoscientists intended to keep them on the global scientific level.
Eugene Birger, PhD.