Curricular Unit: NanoTech: Insights into a Nano-Sized World

Contributed by: National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs, University of Houston

Three images: 1) a man holds a thin plastic sheet covered with a gold surface material, 2) a drawing of what looks like a long net of red dots and white connectors, and 3) a woman sits at a table with a small jar of liquid.
Nanotechnology is a rapidly growing branch of material science with many applications in a range of disciplines. (left to right) A man holds a sheet of nanoantenna arrays designed to harvest solar energy, a drawing shows the path of molecular flow through a nanotube, and a researcher with quantum dots—ultra-small light beacons with specialized optical properties.
Copyright © Idaho National Laboratory; Vin Crespi, Pennsylvania State Physics [PD} via National Science Foundation;


Through two lessons and four activities, students learn about nanotechnology, its extreme smallness, and its vast and growing applications in our world. Embedded within the unit is a broader introduction to the field of material science and engineering and its vital role in nanotechnology advancement. Engaging mini-lab activities on ferrofluids, quantum dots and gold nanoparticles introduce students to specific fields within nanoscience and help them understand key concepts as the basis for thinking about engineering and everyday applications that use next-generation technology—nanotechnology.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Working in the field of nanosciences involves the use of advanced techniques and a thorough understanding of material science and engineering. In addition, material scientists specializing in nanotechnology are posed with challenging problems that require a different thinking from conventional, "micro-scaled," materials thinking. This unit introduces and reduces these "advanced techniques" to a level appropriate for teenagers using the approach of teaching the basic principles of materials and colloids, including their magnetic, photoelectric and chemical properties. Current research on the examples investigated—ferrofluids, quantum dots and gold nanoparticles—shows that they have significant impacts in biomedical applications (biosensors), consumer products (electronic devices) and industrial applications (solar energy).

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
Nanotechnology as a Whole

Students are given a general overview of nanotechnology principles and applications, as well as nanomaterials engineering. Beginning with an introductory presentation, they learn about the nano-scale concept and a framework for the length scales involved in nanotechnology.

High School Lesson
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 ...

Exploring Nondestructive Evaluation Methods

Students learn about nondestructive testing, the use of the finite element method (systems of equations) and real-world impacts, and then conduct mini-activities to apply Maxwell’s equations, generate currents, create magnetic fields and solve a system of equations. They see the value of NDE and FEM...

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 (

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.

  • Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Research and development is a specific problem-solving approach that is used intensively in business and industry to prepare devices and systems for the marketplace. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Unit Overview

Lesson 1 provides an overview of nanotechnology as a new frontier in material science and engineering and how it has become important to technological advances in our society. Topics covered include an introduction to nanotechnology and its history, the nano-size length scale, types of nano phenomena and properties, real-world applications, research technologies and consumer goods that use nanotechnology and misconceptions about nanotechnology. A PowerPoint presentation is included to introduce the topics. In the associated activity, students make measurements of common objects and convert their units into nanometers, cultivating an understanding of the very small size of the nano world.

Lesson 2 introduces students to specific fields and applications in nanoscience through the use of three mini laboratory exercises. A teacher demo piques their interest in the odd and intriguing nano-material behaviors they witness with ferrofluids, quantum dots, and gold nanoparticles, before conducting three hands-on activities on those topics. Each activity includes a student worksheet.

Unit Schedule


Unit Summary Team Poster: After completing the lessons and associated activities, assign student pairs or lab groups (~two students) to each create posters that summarize what was learned during the unit. The intent is for students to apply their newly acquired knowledge and supplement it with additional research. Evaluate team posters using the attached NanoTech Unit Poster Rubric. Require posters to include the following:

  1. Nanotechnologies: Have students pick one major nanotechnology to investigate, such as, carbon nano tubes, quantum dots, gold nanoparticles, gold nanoshells, ferrofluids, etc.
  2. Provide an introduction to the technology that includes:
  • History of discovery or timeline of development
  • Basic chemistry and physics principles that govern functionality
  • Recap of applications with a thesis statement on a chosen focus application
  1. Provide a science background section detailing more in-depth concepts of chemistry and physics. Use equations, pictures and diagrams to illustrate and clearly communicate information.
  2. Provide an engineering applications section detailing the specific application chosen. Incorporate graphics (pictures, equations, diagrams) to clearly explain the information. Also provide descriptions of:
  • How chemistry and physics theories and models are used to make this technology functionally meaningful\
  • Any consumer, medical, industrial data that supports applications emergence into society and the impact this technology is expected to have in its field
  • Advantages and disadvantages nanotechnology has over current/conventional technologies
  • Any expected side-effects or environmental impacts of this technology when used for application chosen
  1. Provide a concise yet thorough summary of the nanotechnology and specific application information.


Other Related Information

See a concise, introductory 22-slide presentation by the National Cancer Institute called, "What is Nanotechnology?' that covers the nanoscale and its unique characteristics, potential benefits, various nanodevices including nanopores, quantum dots, and gold nanoshells, and designing nanodevices for the body and medical applications:


See individual lessons and activities.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2011 University of Houston

Supporting Program

National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs, University of Houston


This curriculum was created by the University of Houston's College of Engineering 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.

Last modified: September 7, 2017