Hands-on Activity: Nanotechnology Grant Proposal Writing

Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Three images: The front cover on a book: Writing the NIH Grant Proposal: A Step-by-Step Guide by William Gerin. A diagram of the various steps in the writing process. A photograph of 4 students working on computers in a computer lab.
Writing grants to receive funding is an important part of engineering and scientific research.
Copyright © Environment and Life Science Directorate, Brookhaven National Laboratory; (right) 2013 Luqa Primary, Wikimedia Commons; (bottom) 2009 University of Salford Press Office, Wikimedia Commons. http://www.bnl.gov/lifesciences/GrantWriting/GrantWriting-books.asp http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Writing_Process_Flow_Chart.gif http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Students_in_a_computer_lab.jpg


Students apply the knowledge gained from the previous lessons and activities in this unit to write draft grant proposals to the U.S. National Institutes of Health outlining their ideas for proposed research using nanoparticles to protect against, detect or treat skin cancer. Through this exercise, students demonstrate their understanding of the environmental factors that contribute to skin cancer, the science and mathematics of UV radiation, the anatomy of human skin, current medical technology applications of nanotechnology and the societal importance of funding research in this area, as well as their communication skills in presenting plans for specific nanoscale research they would conduct using nanoparticles.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Some biomedical engineers focus their research efforts on finding ways to apply the unique characteristics and capabilities of nanoparticles to the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer because this line of research has the potential to help so many people. The grant writing practice is a common task for engineers in all fields. As they write grant proposals to request funding to for their research, they cite the scientific results and findings and engineering inventions and accomplishments of their research as well as their new ideas for ongoing research. Through their own writing efforts in this activity, students see how proposal writing fits into the overall research practice.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Write a basic scientific/engineering research grant.
  • Explain how grant writing fits into the overall scientific and engineering research practice.

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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.

  • Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Solve linear equations and inequalities in one variable, including equations with coefficients represented by letters. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Medical technologies include prevention and rehabilitation, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, medical and surgical procedures, genetic engineering, and the systems within which health is protected and maintained. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The process of engineering design takes into account a number of factors. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Materials List

Each student needs:


Today you will write a grant proposal to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) outlining your research proposal for using nanoparticles to either protect against, detect or treat skin cancer. The competition to secure NIH funding is tough, so make it your best effort and include the following in your proposal:

  • A clear explanation of why skin cancer is a noteworthy problem that deserves funding.
  • Calculations and lab data proving that UV radiation is indeed more energetic than visible light by using the equations E= hν and c =νλ. With c being the speed of light, λ (lambda) being the wavelength of visible and UV light respectively, and ν being frequency of the wave, energy can be solved for each wave by using E = hν. The value of Planck constant is 6.626  10-34 J  S and is represented by h. Also, remember the wavelength ranges for visible light (390-700 nm), UVA (315-390 nm) and UVB (280-315 nm).
  • The implications and applications related to answering the unit's challenge question: What does a UV index mean in terms of your potential skin cancer risk as a surfing enthusiast in Einstein Cove in Australia? How might you use your expertise in nanoparticles to protect against, detect and treat skin cancer?
  • A well-explained request for funding to research a certain aspect in the use of nanoparticles to protect against, detect or treat skin cancer.
  • A professional proposal presentation that is typed and double spaced. A group of your peers will review the proposals on the due date—so be prepared to defend your proposal.

Remember, the practice of grant writing is common to engineers in all fields as they present their scientific results and findings, engineering inventions and accomplishments, as well as their ideas for ongoing research in order to convince others that it is worthwhile to fund their continuing research. It is your goal to persuade the National Institutes of Health to fund your research based on your findings regarding the use of nanoparticles related to cancer in humans.



Biomedical engineers are currently researching the use of nanoparticles in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer in humans. Students complete the Research and Revise phase of the legacy cycle by combining their learning from previous lessons in this unit and finding new online information about cancer-related nanoscale applications and solutions. Then they complete the Go Public phase by writing grant proposals that outline their research plans and request funding, professionally presented for peer review.

Before the Activity

  • Make copies of the Going Public Grant Proposal Worksheet, one per student, which includes the activity instructions, including the proposal requirements and grading rubric.
  • Make available computers with the necessary software and Internet access.
  • Decide on a proposal deadline.

With the Students

  1. Hand out the worksheets. Indicate the proposal deadline.
  2. Suggest that students review all of their materials generated from the unit (notes, worksheets, lab reports) and reflect upon what they learned in the three lessons and two activities. Guide this process as much or little as necessary so that students have a strong understanding of the unit's content.
  3. Give students free time to individually think of ideas, compose a proposal outline and then gather research online. As necessary, guide them in brainstorming specific aspects of nanotechnology research relating to skin cancer they are most interested. With this focus, and an outline, they are ready to research to learn more about it.
  4. Help guide students if they have difficulty with their online research.
  5. Give students class time to begin writing their proposals.
  6. If students need more time, let them finish their writing at home.
  7. In the next class period for this project, provide time for each student to present his/her research proposal and then encourage the class to ask questions and provide feedback and suggestions.
  8. Collect students proposals and review them against the rubric.



Pre-Activity Assessment

Unit Review and Reflection: Have students review all their notes, worksheets, lab reports and any other material generated from this unit. Discuss the information that was taught in the three lessons, as well as what students did in the previous two activities. Encourage students to ask questions to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the unit's content.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Brainstorming and Research: Have students brainstorm which aspects of nanotechnology research relating to skin cancer they are most interested. Once students have each selected one area of nanotechnology to focus on, have them conduct online research to learn more about it. Observe students and circulate the room, checking in with them to gauge their comprehension, keep them on task and answer any questions. Refer students to the Going Public Grant Proposal Worksheet for guidance in the proposal requirements and grading rubric.

Post-Activity Assessment

Proposal and Presentation: Require students to prepare (and turn in) typed grant proposals and share them with the class. Use the Grant Proposal Grading Rubric to grade student performance and assess their understanding of the unit's content.


Michelle Bell, Amber Spolarich


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Vanderbilt University

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: March 19, 2018