Let’s Talk NanoScience at the University of Alberta by Shakib Rahman

Early on Friday morning, the last day of  reading week, more than a hundred kids wandered through the doors of ETLC and eagerly sat in a lecture hall filling the lower bowl.  They weren’t getting a head start on classes for next week, in fact the students weren’t even in university.  These high school students came to listen to what nanoscience is and how it shapes our world.

Let’s Talk NanoScience is an event put on by Let’s Talk Science at the University of Alberta and the Faculty of Engineering to showcase the strength of the nanoscience program here at the University.  Students from all over Edmonton sat eagerly in anticipation, listening with rapt attention to hear about the somewhat mystical topic that increasingly prevalent in our world.

Over the course of the day they were able to learn what nanoscience is about, how nanomaterials are made and how they interact with biological ecosystems.  Four stations were set up throughout the ETLC and NINT buildings to give them an introduction to the topic and some hands on activities with actual nanoparticles.  Interspersed through the day were a couple of talks by local UAlberta nanoscience experts to provide an overview and possible future applications of nanoscience.

The first of the four stations was an introduction to nanotoxicology, a melding of the fields of nanoscience and ecology.  Students were able to see both Daphnia magna (brine shrimp in the common tongue) and paramecium that had consumed quantum dots at different concentrations.  From there, the group of students pooled their data and plotted these data points to calculate an lethal concentration 50% (LC 50) curve for each organism and determined their relative sensitivity as well as the toxic doses of quantum nanodots.

The next station involved making your own ferrofluid from iron nanoparticles and oil.  This simple concoction was both magnetic and fluid.  Bring a magnet close and the liquid shifts and threaten to tip the cup containing it over.  Students were also able to write their names by dropping few drops of this fluid on strip or paper and pulling a magnet–along with some fine motor control!

The last two stations were tours of the high-tech NanoFAB and NINT buildings.  Students were able to peer into working nanoscience labs and observe nanoscientists at work.  There also got the opportunity to meet a nanoscientist and ask any questions they had about the field.  And of course being let into the depth of a highly restrictive and clandestine building on campus, which many university students haven’t been admitted into, was also a very unique and exciting experience for the kids.

This event took a lot of hard work to put on and I’d like to thank the organizers from Let’s Talk Science, the NanoScience group and the Faculty of Engineering for putting on an amazing display of nanoscience in action.  Also thanks to all of the volunteers and activity leaders for being part of such a fun event.  Let’s Talk NanoScience will run again next February and if you’d like to get involved you can register at the CurioCity website (http://www.explorecuriocity.org/Community/Symposia/LetsTalknanoScience.aspx).

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