Home > Press > Unique Models Help Teach Nanoscience to the Blind
At the root of scientific study are observations made with the eyes; yet in nanoscience, our eyes fail us. That's why nanoscale experiments offer such great opportunities to teach blind and visually impaired students about science and pique their interest in the field, say UW-Madison scientists.
Unique Models Help Teach Nanoscience to the Blind
Madison, WI | Posted on March 27th, 2007
At the root of scientific study are observations made with the eyes; yet in nanoscience, our eyes fail us. The smallest object we can see still looms thousands of times larger than a typical nano-sized structure. Even the most powerful microscopes can't peer into the nanoscale directly.
That's why nanoscale experiments offer such great opportunities to teach blind and visually impaired students about science and pique their interest in the field, says Andrew Greenberg, education and outreach coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) and the Institute for Chemical Education.
"The fact is, we're all blind at the nanoscale," he says. "So the message to blind students is, 'This is something you can do, this is a field you can enter. You have the ability to understand what's going on at the nanoscale just as much as anyone else.'"
To give blind students a feel - literally - for nanoscience and technology, Greenberg and Mohammed Farhoud, a senior biochemistry student working with UW-Madison Center for Biology Education (CBE) Director Dave Evans, are building three-dimensional models of nano-surfaces that are large enough to be explored with the hands. Their first attempt replicates "NanoBucky," a nanoscale version of the UW-Madison mascot, Bucky Badger, made entirely from tiny carbon nanofiber "hairs."
Greenberg and Farhoud are presenting the work, funded by the National Science Foundation, on March 27 at the 233rd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Created by UW-Madison chemistry professor Bob Hamers to demonstrate a method for controlling the growth of nanomaterials, the original NanoBucky is so tiny that approximately 9,000 of him can fit on the head of the pin. Though Greenberg and Farhoud's plaster 3-D models are several inches long and tens of thousands of times larger, they aim to faithfully reproduce every last nanofiber of Bucky's being.
"We want to get across that NanoBucky is made up of individual carbon nanofibers standing on end," says Greenberg. "If the students' fingers were small enough, this is what a surface would feel like at the nanoscale."
The pair is still perfecting the modeling method, which employs an engineering tool called rapid prototyping. But eventually, Greenberg plans to test whether the models help blind students grasp nanoscience concepts, especially the complex ways in which data are collected to produce 2-D images of nanoscale surfaces.
He also wonders whether 3-D models might help sighted students - or the public, for that matter - also appreciate the nanoscale. "A two-dimensional image is great," he says. "But if you can touch something - everyone enjoys that."
Greenberg first conceived of the models during a visit to the Indiana School for the Blind, where a colleague showed him 3-D models of molecules that blind students handled to learn chemical structures. Soon afterward, he contacted Farhoud, master of the rapid prototyping printer in the UW's Biology New Media Center. To help professors convey difficult concepts in the classroom, Farhoud routinely builds 3-D models from computer-generated images of tiny things, including molecules and cellular structures.
NanoBucky, though, was on a scale all his own. Starting with a 2-D, grey-scale picture of the nano-mascot taken with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Farhoud first reversed the image, making the blacks appear white and vice versa.
Next, he used the various shades of grey in the image to confer heights on the carbon nanofibers: the blackest black was assigned a maximum height, white got a value of zero, and the computing program MATLAB calculated all the values in between.
Farhoud then sent these newly acquired 3-D data into the rapid prototyper, which lays down plaster layer-by-layer to "print" 3-D models.
Greenberg and Farhoud are confident they can construct models from data generated by other common tools of the nanotechnology trade, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM). In fact, AFM output has proven easier to work with than SEM images, says Farhoud, because the data are already 3-D. They also plan to replicate other nanoscale surfaces, such as those made from materials called block copolymers.
Besides being fun to touch and handle, Greenberg hopes the models will encourage more blind and visually impaired students to pursue science, technology and engineering. Because current learning and research tools don't allow them to experience science on their own, many blind students don't consider science an attractive career choice.
"One of the goals of our program is to build diversity into science and engineering," he says. "We really want to open these careers to anyone who is interested."
For more information, please click here
Copyright © Newswise
If you have a comment, please Contact
Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
NanoTecNexus Launches New App for Learning About Nanotechnology—STEM Education Project Spearheaded by Interns February 26th, 2015
SUNY Poly CNSE Researchers and Corporate Partners to Present Forty Papers at Globally Recognized Lithography Conference: SUNY Poly CNSE Research Group Awarded Both ‘Best Research Paper’ and ‘Best Research Poster’ at SPIE Advanced Lithography 2015 forum February 25th, 2015
KIT Increases Commitment in Asia: DAAD Funds Two New Projects: Strategic Partnerships with Chinese Universities and Communi-cation Technologies Network February 22nd, 2015
Minus K Technology Announces Its 2015 Vibration Isolator Educational Giveaway to U.S. Colleges and Universities February 18th, 2015
Imec, Murata, and Huawei Introduce Breakthrough Solution for TX-to-RX Isolation in Reconfigurable, Multiband Front-End Modules for Mobile Phones: Electrical-Balance Duplexers Pave the Way to Integrated Solution for TX-to-RX Isolation March 1st, 2015
Imec Demonstrates Compact Wavelength-Division Multiplexing CMOS Silicon Photonics Transceiver March 1st, 2015
onic Present breakthrough in CMOS-based Transceivers for mm-Wave Radar Systems March 1st, 2015
Graphene Shows Promise In Eradication Of Stem Cancer Cells March 1st, 2015
2015 Nanonics Image Contest January 29th, 2015
OCSiAl supports NanoART Imagery Contest January 23rd, 2015
EnvisioNano: An image contest hosted by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) January 22nd, 2015
Oxford Instruments Asylum Research Announces AFM Image Contest Winners January 11th, 2015