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Secondary Education

Virtual Microscope (Nanoscope)

The Virtual Microscope Project - jointly funded by our NSEC and NASA - provides simulated scientific instrumentation for students and researchers worldwide as part of NASA’s Virtual Laboratory initiative. The project web site (http://virtual.itg.uiuc.edu) receives over 2500 hits a month and the software for using the Virtual Microscope can be downloaded from the web site. At its core, the Virtual Microscope (Nanoscope) is a library of scanning electron microscope (SEM) images at varying magnification and focus. The images are stored and accessed on a computer to give the impression of using an actual SEM. An assessment of the Virtual Microscope revealed that high school students used the it as they would a real microscope and that they were able to quickly learn how to operate the program. Further, they were able to connect what they saw in the microscope to concepts they had learned in class. The assessment also identified needed improvements in the viewer interface, which were made in consultation with NSEC staff. Over 90 samples are now available for students to view.

The image below shows the controls currently available for manipulation of the image.


Bringing Nanotechnology to the Classroom

Our program building high school curricula for high school students in partnership with Burnt Hills Ballston Lake High School (BHBL) has reached the dissemination stage. This past summer, we developed the Nanotechnology Curriculum Development Summer 2008 Institute in partnership with WCET – a non-for-profi t company committed to developing programs that strengthen New York State Capital District’s involvement in nanotechnology, and the 5 county WSWHE – BOCES program. As part of the program, 5 school districts contributed more than $10,000 to have a team of 2-3 teachers attend the month-long program. The teachers spent the first week at Rensselaer learning about nanotechnology. They also observed and participated in the modules developed by Rensselaer, the Albany Public School District, and the National Center for Learning and Teaching so that they could use those in their classrooms. They spent 2 weeks developing their own new modules to incorporate into their curriculum. In one case they developed a whole course. The final week was spent practicing the new modules on each other and receiving feedback.

One full day of the first week was spent showing the teachers the modules developed by BHBL on atomic force microscopy. BHBL built a large scale AFM that makes use of a hack-saw blade and speaker coils. The blade simulates the tapping mode with a mechanical vibration device. The height of the hacksaw blade is measured with a laser (as in a real AFM) and is recorded on a piece of paper. As the tip encounters both varying height and varying stiffness, the vibration is altered and this is recorded with the laser. The teachers also attached a magnetic head, which they can used to sense metallic portions of a sample of coins embedded in a block of wood. In this way, the major principles of an AFM are demonstrated with this large scale instrument. In addition, the technology teacher at BHBL makes use of Lego Mindstorm kits to synergistically infuse the students’ interests to “have fun” building moving parts with LEGO bricks and software with the teacher’s motivation to educate their students with the principles of engineering design. At the end of the day, each school district was given an AFM setup and a set of LEGO Mindstorms. What we found was that the teachers wanted to develop new curricula more than practice using what had already been developed, but will likely make use of much of what they were shown. In addition, the curriculum developed for the AFM was uploaded to the NCLT web site for dissemination to high schools around the country. Assessment is ongoing by the new teachers within the classroom and we expect to be able to evaluate the impact of the institute in Spring 2009.