Hands-on Activity: What is a Nanometer?
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Each group needs:
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. While these materials have been around for decades, only recently—because of our improved capability to see at that scale—have they received so much attention. However, traditional material science and physics cannot explain, nor see, phenomena that occur at their tiny length scale. With the birth of quantum mechanics, scientists and engineers are able to model and predict material behaviors at those length scales, yet it is all relatively new.
Nano materials are unique because of the relative size compared to the atomic scale. How small? At 100 nm, this is only 10 angstroms, which is ~5 times that of atom interatomic spacing in crystalline solids. This is extremely small and because of this relative size comparison, new interactions start occurring.
Before jumping into an investigation of the applications and improvements using nanotechnology, let's consider how small a nanometer is. The size description of a nanometer just given is not meaningful to someone who is not a material scientist or engineer. How small is the nano scale compared to tangible, familiar objects? A nanometer is expressed as 1 x 10-9m, which means 1 meter contains 1,000,000,000 nanometers. This number is one BILLION nanometers in one meter. To put this in perspective, 1 nanometer is to 1 meter as 1 km is to the distance between the Earth and Saturn. Or, 1 nanometer is 1 millionth the size of a SkittlesTM candy. Or, the thickness of one sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper is equivalent to ~100,000 nm.
To grasp and understand these distances, we will use practical, everyday references to understand the nanometer. Today, you will measure a series of objects and provide answer in nanometers. You will also compare nanometers to small known objects or living things. By the end of today's activity, you should have a firm grasp on this unique and important length scale.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Before the Activity
With the Students
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Activity Embedded Assessment
Activity Worksheet: Have student teams use the attached Measurement & Conversion Worksheet as they collect data and make conversion calculations. The worksheet guides students to record measurements and calibration steps, and it tests their knowledge of fractional comparisons and scaling factors. Expect students to complete the worksheet in class (showing their work) and turn it in for grading. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the concepts.
Closing Class Discussion: Lead a post-activity discussion to compare results and realizations about the extreme smallness of the nano length scale.
References (Return to Contents)
FDA Continues Dialogue on "Nano" Regulation. Last updated July 18, 2012. For Consumers, US Food and Drug Administration. Accessed September 26, 2012. (caption information on Bucky balls) http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm258462.htm
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)University of Houston, NSF GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs
Acknowledgements (Return to Contents)
This curriculum was created with the support of National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0840889. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.