Hands-on Activity Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 11 (10-12)

Time Required: 1 hours 15 minutes

Best if spread over two class periods to maximize student time.

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

This activity uses some non-expendable items; see the Materials List for details.

Group Size: 4

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Problem Solving, Science and Technology

A photograph shows small tubes of manufactured quantum dots of vivid colors ranging from violet to deep red.
Nanotechnology takes on a variety of forms, and even colors, such as these quantum dot nanocrystals.
Copyright © 2012 Antipoff, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quantum_Dots_with_emission_maxima_in_a_10-nm_step_are_being_produced_at_PlasmaChem_in_a_kg_scale.jpg


Through a scavenger hunt, students are introduced to the world of nanotechnology. In the form of a competition, groups race to locate symbols that correlate to an answer to a general nanotechnology question. Each team receives paper slips with questions; the remaining questions are hidden behind QR codes. Groups need to answer eight total questions in the correct order. Because this is an intro to nanotechnology and its associated engineering, students need to use problem-solving skills in order to identify the correct answers. After the initial scavenger hunt, a brief class discussion explores advances in nanotechnology. Next, students work in teams to research different areas of nanotechnology as they create their own scavenger hunt games.

Engineering Connection

Critical thinking is the deliberate and cognitive act of reflecting on one’s choices and reasoning in order to determine a solution, and engineers employ critical thinking in many ways. For example, mechanical engineers use critical thinking to design machines. Environmental engineers use critical thinking to improve recycling methods. Engineers who work with nanoparticles are becoming more innovative, both in the way they develop nanoparticles and in potential nanotechnology applications. Students relate their newfound knowledge to engineering while they create their own scavenger hunts based off their nanotechnology research.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Create questions related to the use of nanotechnology.
  • Use critical thinking and problem solving skills to address a problem.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • communicate and apply scientific information extracted from various sources such as current events, news reports, published journal articles, and marketing materials; (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Creativity and innovation. The student demonstrates creative thinking, constructs knowledge, and develops innovative products and processes using technology. The student is expected to: (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Research and information fluency. The student applies digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. The student uses a variety of strategies to acquire information from electronic resources, with appropriate supervision. The student is expected to: (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making. The student uses critical-thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. The student is expected to: (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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Materials List

Each group needs:

To share with the entire class:

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/rice2-2121-nanotechnology-qr-code-scavenger-hunt] to print or download.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Because this is an introductory activity to nanotechnology, no content pre-requisites exist. Students employ critical thinking and problem solving skills during the hunt. As necessary, lead a class discussion on problem solving before starting the activity. If students have not used QR readers, introduce this technology to the class. (See the Background section for instructions on how to use QR readers.)


What do cancer drugs, high-definition TVs, windmills, clothing, and tennis racquets have in common? Take some time to think about this one, but don’t worry if you can’t come up with an answer! (Let students ponder this question for a minute or so. Then ask them to share their ideas.)

Did anyone guess that they all employ some sort of nanotechnology? If you did, congratulations! Believe it or not, all of those things—even though none of them are particularly related—are examples of everyday applications of nanotechnology. Cancer drugs use nanoparticles to deliver substances to cells. Electronics manufacturers employ nanotechnology to improve television display screens. Carbon nanotubes are used in wind turbine blade manufacturing. Silver nanoparticles kill odor-causing bacteria in clothing. And tennis racquets? Adding nanotubes to a racquet frame adds strength and helps players improve motion control.

So, what exactly is nanotechnology? (Listen to student ideas.) Nanotechnology is the use of natural and engineered particles that exist in a variety of applications. These particles exist on the nanoscale—an exceptionally small unit of measurement. To get a sense of how small nanoparticles and the nanoscale are, let’s watch this video from the National Nuclear Security Administration called “Understanding the Nanoscale.”

We covered a few examples above, but for the purposes of our exercise let’s dig a little deeper from an engineering design perspective. Yet another use of nanoparticles to develop water treatments systems that are both cost effective and sustainable to individuals around the world. Current research on nanoparticles such as titanium dioxide, silver nanoparticles, and magnetic nanoparticles provide insight as to how these water treatment systems can be engineered. In order to do this, engineers must think critically about the entire ecosystem in which they must design these systems, from the water sources and population centers to the nanoparticles themselves.

In today's activity, you will practice your engineering critical thinking skills as you learn about nanotechnology. Also like researchers and engineers, expect to make mistakes during the process. During this activity, you will research and learn about a specific area of nanotechnology and design a game that uses technology and teaches the players about nanotechnology. Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit more about nanotechnology by looking at a slide presentation.

(Explain the scavenger hunt game to students, referring to Figure 1; use instructions from the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet.)


Before the Activity

  • The QR codes in this activity were created using the https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/ website. Scan each QR code using a QR coder reader app to verify that all questions are still operating correctly. If the codes are not working, refer to the next section on How to Build a QR Code Scavenger Hunt Game from Scratch.   
  • If students have never used QR code readers, share the following instructions:
    • If using an iPhone 6 or later:
      • Go to the camera on the phone.
      • Hold the camera over the QR code as if taking a picture of it. 
      • A menu appears on the screen. Click on the menu to display the message in the QR code.
    • If using an Android or other device:
      • Download a free QR code reader app from the device’s app store.
      • Open the app on the device.
      • Hold the device over the QR code as if taking a picture of it.
      • A menu appears on the screen. Click on the menu to display the message in the QR code.
  • Print the Scavenger Hunt Wall Documents and place each page in a different location around the classroom. Position the pages at student eye level.
  • Print the Scavenger Hunt Question Slips; cut them into individual strips.
  • Make copies of the Game Rubric, one per group.
  • If you want students to use the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet to keep track of their answers, print one page per student. Even though working in pairs, encourage each student to keep track of his/her progress throughout the activity.

How to Build a QR Code Scavenger Hunt Game from Scratch:

  • To ensure your scavenger hunt works, follow the following instructions:
    • Select the questions you want to include in the scavenger hunt. Create three or more questions for the game to work effectively. (Eight questions is an optimal amount, and is the number used in this activity.)
    • In a MS Word document, create a table. Make the column headers Answer, Question, QR code, and Symbol (as shown below).

    • Fill in each of the following rows with the questions and answers you have selected; one question and answer per row. 
    • Select a unique symbol for each question and place under the symbol column.
      • Find possible symbols from free clipart or freely available graphics in Wikimedia Commons.   
    • Create a QR code for each question by going to https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/.
    • Be sure to select the option “FREE TEXT” at the top of the webpage and input your questions, but do not include the answer!
    • Save and title each of the QR codes to your desktop and insert the image into your documents.
    • Create the individual wall documents for your game.
    • Remember, each document must contain a symbol, QR code, and answer. (See Figure 2 as an example.)

A graphic of a Word document with a teal clipart heart symbol, QR code, and the number 14, all vertically aligned.
Figure 2. An example scavenger hunt page to post in the classroom. Students scan the QR code to obtain information about a question that they need to answer.
Copyright © 2016 Christina Crawford, Rice University RET Program

    • When students scan the QR code, a question should pop up that leads them to another wall document in the classroom, with the answer at the bottom. Remember, do not include the answer of the question on the same page as its QR code, always use a different answer. Doing this leads the teams to move around the room from QR code to QR code.
    • As an example, look at the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet Answer Key on the first wall display (see Figure 2); it looks like this: the answer 14 is at bottom of the page; the heart symbol is at the top of the page; and QR code #2 is in the middle of the page.
    • Follow this same pattern for the rest of the pages. Making the pages in this manner creates a cycle for students to go through.

With the Students

Kick off the activity by telling the students: Around the room are eight symbols that you need to place in the correct order. Complete this task by correctly answering a series of questions.

Part 1:

  1. Distribute questions from the Scavenger Hunt Question Slips and copies of the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet.
  2. Have students begin by answering the question on a slip of paper at their desks. An example question is: “How many different types of breast cancers have been identified with the aid of nanotechnology?”
    • Clue: all answers are numbers.
    • In this case the answer is 14. Students will not know that this is the answer but they can use problem solving skills to help them select the correct answer from the options around the room. In this case, all other number have units, are percentages, or are dates, leaving the number 14 as the only viable option.
  1. Direct teams to look around the room to find the answers to their questions, which are written on the bottoms of the QR codes placed around the room (see Figure 2). 
  2. Have students record the symbol found above the QR code on the same sheet as the answer they chose on the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet, for example a heart or a star.
    • Writing down the symbol helps students keep track of their answers and provides a simple method for teachers to provide feedback in case teams get wrong answers.
  1. Once groups have recorded a symbol for the question they just answered, they scan the QR code on that same document to receive the next question. The answer to the new question is found at the bottom of a different document posted in the room.
  2. Students repeat steps 2-4 on the student sheets until they find all eight symbols.
    • Clue: If scanning a QR code gives a team its initial question again, before they have completed all remaining questions, this indicates that they have answered one of the questions incorrectly and must retrace their steps to determine/fix the incorrect answer. The initial question read on the slip of paper is also the last question found.
  1. (optional) Once all students have completed the scavenger hunt, award a prize to the first three teams that solve the sequence.
  2. Give students five minutes to individually reflect and write about at least two facts they learned about nanotechnology.
  3. Lead a class discussion on nanotechnology and how engineers are applying this technology to find solutions to many of the world’s problems; for example, water sustainability. Use the slides in the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt PowerPoint Presentation to open the discussion.

Part 2:  

  1. Provide students with the group challenge:
    • Explain: “Now that you have been introduced to the world of nanotechnology, it is your turn to create a scavenger hunt or game that teachs your classmates about a specific application of nanotechnology. You may choose from the following areas:”
      • Construction materials
      • Water treatment
      • Medicine
      • Electronics
      • Sporting goods
      • Information technology
      • Food and cosmetics
      • Environmental health 
    • Each team is required to create an instruction page that includes:
      • Rules of the game (such as the following):
        • How to win
        • What is not allowed
        • Time frame
      • Game play instructions (such as the following):
        • How to get points (if any)
        • Team member responsibilities
        • Troubleshooting tips
    • Each team is required to create a game answer key that includes:
      • Correct order for the scavenger hunt
      • Internet source citations for the found information
      • A two-paragraph background section that explains the significance of nanotechnology to the field
    • The scavenger hunt must have the criteria listed in the Game Rubric.
  1. Distribute the Game Rubric and let teams research the topic and design a game. As students work, walk around and ask questions to make sure they are meeting all the game requirements (instruction page, background section, etc.).
  2. Once teams finish creating their games, have groups play each other’s games. If possible, engage another class to play and assess the games.


nanometer: A unit of measurement often used to express dimensions on an atomic scale.

nanoparticle: A particle, usually referring to inorganic material, that measures between 1 and 100 nanometers in size, surrounded by a layer of ions as well as inorganic, and organic molecules.

nanoscale: Refers to structures with a length scale applicable to nanotechnology, usually cited as 1–100 nanometers; a nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

nanotechnology: The science that deals with the manipulation of matter at the nanometer-sized scale. In order for a system or process to be considered “nanotech,” it must not only be effective at the nanoscale but must also have unique properties at that scale.

nanotube: Cylindrical carbon tubes with exceptional strength and stiffness; usually applied as structural additives to various materials.

QR code: A matrix barcode that is a machine-readable optical label that contains information about a given item to which it is attached.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Warm-Up: Ask students what comes to mind when they hear the word nanotechnology. Ask students to freely share their thoughts and ideas without judgement. Tell tham that they will learn more about nanotechnology in today's activity.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Check Points: Monitor student progress by moving around the room with them. If you notice a group having a hard time and keeps starting over, help them work through one question to put them on the right track. Before creating their own games, require each student to reflect on the activity and write about at least two facts they learned about nanotechnology and its real-world applications.

Post-Activity Assessment

Discussion: After playing all the games created by each group, have students provide each other with feedback on the games and discuss what they learned about nanotechnology.

Activity Extensions

Assign students to use what they have learned about nanotechnology to write a paper that evaluates the impact of nanotechnology on the environment.

Additional Multimedia Support

Consider showing students the Scale of the Universe—an interactive illustration that helps visualize nanoscale and massive scales; see http://scaleofuniverse.com/.


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Williams, Linda, and Adams, Wade: Nanotechnology Demystified: New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

Bradley, Paul. “Everyday Applications of Nanotechnology.” October 3, 2011. Community College Week. Accessed October 11, 2018. http://ccweek.com/article-2630-everyday-applications-of-nanotechnology.html


© 2018 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2016 Rice University


Christina Crawford; Carolyn Nichol

Supporting Program

Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT) RET, Rice University


This curriculum was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Rice University Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT) RET grant no.1449500. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last modified: October 26, 2018

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