Hands-on Activity: Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt!

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

Quantum dots with vivid colors stretching from violet to deep red are held in small tubes after manufacture.
Nanotechnology takes on a variety of forms, and even colors, such as these quantum dot nanocrystals.
Copyright © 2012 Antipoff, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons, 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. Under the guise of a competition, students must locate symbols that correlate to an answer to a general nanotechnology question. Each group receives a slip of paper with a question; the remaining questions are hidden behind QR codes. There are eight total questions students need to answer in the correct order. Because this is an introduction to nanotechnology and the engineering associated with that technology, students groups have to use problem-solving skills in order to identify the correct answers. After the initial scavenger hunt, a brief discussion is held in class on advances in nanotechnology. Next, students are broken up into teams to research different areas of nanotechnology in order to create their own scavenger hunt game.

Engineering Connection

Critical thinking is a 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 and more innovative each year. This applies both to the way the engineers develop nanoparticles and also to the potential applications of nanotechnology. Students will relate their newfound knowledge to engineering while they are create their own scavenger hunts based off their nanotechnology research.

Pre-Req Knowledge

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

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

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

More Curriculum Like This

Fun with Nanotechnology

Through three teacher-led demonstrations, students are shown samplers of real-world nanotechnology applications involving ferrofluids, quantum dots and gold nanoparticles. This nanomaterials engineering lesson introduces practical applications for nanotechnology and some scientific principles relate...

High School Lesson
Nanoparticles at Photocatalytic Speed!

Students test nanoparticle solutions to determine the best nanoparticle to remove organic compounds from water. They test for the efficiency of photocatalytic nanoparticles to sanitize (or bleach) water by exposing a solution sample with newly made water sanitation filters under UV light (sunlight) ...

The Amazing Buckyball: How to Track Nanomaterials in the Human Body

Students learn how nanoparticles can be used for diagnostic purposes in the body. They learn about carbon allotropes called buckministerfullernes, commonly known as buckyballs, and about futuristic ways to deliver drugs or medical treatment using buckyballs. They brainstorm ways to track buckyballs ...

Nanotechnology and Cancer Treatments

Students learn about the biomedical use of nanoparticles in the detection and treatment of cancer, including the use of quantum dots and lasers that heat-activate nanoparticles. They also learn about electrophoresis—a laboratory procedure that uses an electric field to move tiny particles through a ...

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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology. (Grades K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving. (Grades K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • communicate and apply scientific information extracted from various sources such as current events, news reports, published journal articles, and marketing materials; (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

To share with the entire class:


What do cancer drugs, high-definition TVs, windmills, clothing, and tennis racquets all have in common? Take some time to think about this one, but don’t worry if you can’t come up with an answer!

(Ask students to ponder this question for a minute or so.)

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 windmill blade manufacturing. Silver nanoparticles kill odor-causing bacteria in clothing. And tennis racquets? Adding nanotubes to a racquet frame adds power and helps a player with control.

So, what exactly is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the use of natural and engineered particles that 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 will 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 our activity, you will practice their critical thinking skills in order to learn about nanotechnology.  Also like researchers and engineers, you will probably make mistakes during the process. During this activity, you will research and learn about a specific area of nanotechnology and design a game which uses technology and teaches the players about nanotechnology. Before we get into the activity, let’s learn a little bit more about nanotechnology by looking at the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt PowerPoint Presentation

(Explain the scavenger hunt game to your students and refer to Figure 1 below; use instructions from the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet):


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.



Before the Activity

  • The QR codes in this activity were all created using the website https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/. Scan each QR code using a QR coder reader app to verify that all questions are still operating properly. If the codes aren’t working, refer to the next section on How to Build a QR Code Scavenger Hunt Game from Scratch.   
  • If students have never used a QR code reader before please 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 you were going to take a picture of it. 
      • A menu will come across 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 your device’s app store.
      • Open the app on your device.
      • Hold the device over the QR code as you were going to take a picture of it.
      • A menu will come across the screen. Click on the menu to display the message in the QR code.
  • Print out the Scavenger Hunt Wall Documents individually and place each page in a different location around the classroom. Make sure that all pages are at least at eye level for the students.
  • Print out the Scavenger Hunt Question Slips; cut out into individual strips.
  • Print out copies of the Game Rubric, one per group.
  • If students use the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet to keep track of their answers, print one page per student.  Even though students are working in pairs, encourage each student to keep track of their 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 would like 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 word document, create a table. The column headers should be Answer, Question, QR code, and Symbol (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.
    • 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 your 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.)

Image of a Word document with a teal clip art heart, QR code, and the number 14 all vertically aligned.
Figure 2. An example of one of the scavenger hunt pages that can hang around the classroom. The QR code can be scanned for information about a question that students 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 around the room, 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. This will allow students to move around the room from QR code to QR code.
    • If you look at the Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt Student Sheet Answer Key on the first wall display, the page will look 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 would be place in the middle of the page.
    • Follow this same pattern for the rest of the pages. Creating the pages in this manner will create a cycle for the students to go through.

With the Students

Provide the following scenario to the students: There are eight symbols around the room you need to place in the correct order. You 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 desk. An example question would be: “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 exact number ‘14’ as the only viable option.
  1. Direct students to look around the room to find the answer to their question which is written on the bottom of a QR code placed around the room, see Figure 2 above. 
  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 not only helps students keep track of their answers, but provides a simple method for teachers to provide feedback in case students do get an answer wrong.
  1. Once students have recorded a symbol for the question they just answered, they will then scan the QR code on that same document to receive their next question.  The answer to the new question can be found at the bottom of a different document somewhere around the room.
  2. Students will repeat steps 2-4 on their student sheets until they find all eight symbols.
    • Clue: If a student scans a QR code giving them their initial question again, before they have completed all remaining questions, this is an indicator that they have gotten one of the questions wrong and must retrace their steps to find the incorrect answer. The initial question read on the slip of paper should also be the last question the student finds.
  1. Optional: Once all students have completed the scavenger hunt, the teacher may give a prize to the first three groups to solve the sequence.
  2. Give the students five minutes to reflect individually and write about at least two facts they learned regarding nanotechnology.
  3. Lead a whole 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 provided Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt PowerPoint Presentation as your discussion opener.

Part 2:  

  1. Provide students with the group challenge:
    • Explain: “Now that you have be introduced to the world of nanotechnology.  It is now your turn to create a scavenger hunt or game that will teach your fellow 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 which include:
      • Rules of the game (for example)
        • How to win
        • What is not allowed
        • Time frame
      • Game play instructions (for example) which include:
        • How to get points (if any)
        • Responsibility of team members
        • Trouble shooting tips
    • Each team is required to create an answer key for the game which includes:
      • Correct order for the scavenger hunt
      • Citations for the found information
      • Two paragraph background section which 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 students research their topic and create their game. As students work, walk around and ask students questions to make sure they are including all the requirements for their game (instruction page, background section, etc.)
  2. Once students finish creating their games, let groups play each other’s games. If available, let another class play and assess the games.



Pre-Activity Assessment

Warm-up: Ask students what comes to mind when they hear the word nanotechnology.  Ask students to freely share their thoughts.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Check Points: Monitor student progress by moving around the room with them. If you notice a group is having a hard time and keeps starting over, help them work through one of the questions to put them back on the right track. Before the creation of their own activity, each student will be responsible for reflecting individually on the activity and will be required to write about at least two facts they learned about nanotechnology and its uses.

Post-Activity Assessment

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

Activity Extensions

Students can use what they have learned about nanotechnology to write a paper which evaluates the impact of nanotechnology on the environment.

Additional Multimedia Support

The Scale of the Universe: an interactive illustration that helps students visualize nanoscale (as well as massive scales). http://scaleofuniverse.com/


Williams, Linda, and Adams, Wade: Nanotechnology Demystified: New York: 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


Christina Crawford; Carolyn Nichol


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

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 11, 2018