Hatter Seminar examines nanotechnology


14 January 2009 Hatter Seminar examines nanotechnology Some of the worlds leading experts in nanotechnology have been brought to London for the seventh annual World ORT Hatter Technology Seminar Nanotechnology and Material Science: From Research to Classroom. This week, academics from the USA, Israel and United Kingdom are coming to ORT House to share their formidable knowledge of the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale where the technology is now, how it is expected to develop, what coming generations will need to know to be able to ride the wave and how to teach it to them. Among them is Dr Boris Berenfeld, Director of the International Centre at the Concord Consortium. For nearly 20 years, Dr Berenfeld has focused on the use of technology to enhance students learning in collaborative science projects and on the development of new generations of learning materials in physics, chemistry and biology that utilise atomic and molecular computational models. It is my deep conviction that in the same way in the 1980s we were talking about Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy now its high time to talk about molecular and atomic literacy to prepare new generations of students in nanoscience, Dr Berenfeld said. By 2020 we will need a large number of nanoworkers. Indeed, it is estimated that more than 800 nanotech products are already publicly available. And nanotechnology has the potential to create many new materials and devices with applications in medicine, electronics, energy production, textiles, defence and even computing. Dr Berenfeld, who was one of several top academics involved in re-establishing ORT in Russia in the late 1980s, says ORT is well placed to spearhead knowledge of nanotechnology in high schools. ORT has experience in bringing cutting edge technologies to different places since the 1900s whether it was electricity and later electronics and high tech. So its natural for ORT to enter the nanotechnology field, he said. Among the challenges of teaching nanotechnology is the need to attract the brightest students and the need to develop a new curriculum which is able to incorporate the diversity of disciplines which feed into this relatively new field of research. Nanotechnology generally deals with structures smaller than 100 nanometres, where a nanometre is one-billionth of a metre approximately the width of three atoms. By comparison, the average human hair is about 25,000 nanometres wide. Why should students choose to study nanotechnology Telling them its important wont suffice; you have to engage them through involving them in hands-on exploration, you have to give them tools to answer their own questions, you have to motivate them, Dr Berenfeld said. My research and development group has spent years working to develop very powerful, yet very friendly, software to make students into young researchersin molecular science. On Tuesday, the Hatter Seminars 18 participants science and technology teachers and other educators from Israel, Italy, South Africa, Lithuania, Russia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Argentina, USA, France and Ukraine experienced a lecture cum master class with Dr Berenfeld under the heading Molecular Workbench: Reasoning with Atomic-Scale Models in Preparation for Nanotechnology and Biotechnology Careers. The session focused on the use of computer-generated models which relate a wide range of macroscopic physical, chemical and biological phenomena to properties of atoms, molecules and their interactions. The participants explored hands-on ways to integrate these highly interactive dynamic molecular models with traditional educational methods so that students can experience the nanoworld without getting bogged down in difficult theoretical descriptions. There is a need to develop a whole new approach because nanoscience is so interdisciplinary, taking in chemistry, biology, physics and engineering, Dr Berenfeld said. With enough resources, ORT can bridge the gap between research and development and high schools. People usually underestimate how costly teacher development and curriculum development is. It can cost millions. Maybe some philanthropists will read this and they can change the future through engaging students in this field. Other speakers this week include Professor Lesley Cohen, Head of Solid State Physics at Imperial College, London, with a general introduction to nanotechnology; Dr Sergey Gordeev, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University of Bath, with an examination of the problems of existing electronics and what the prospects and problems may be of using molecules as building blocks of future electronics; and Dr Mark Miodownik, Head of the Materials Research Group at Kings College, London, with an investigation into the essential difference between animate and inanimate matter, a line of questioning that could one day result in the creation of objects which can repair themselves. The Hatter Seminar also features a presentation by Clive Roberts, Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology at the University of Nottingham, on current research in his field, products that have been developed and future possibilities; Dr Simon Henley, who researches the nanotechnological application of pulsed lasers at the University of Surreys Advanced Technology Institute, discusses uses of nanomaterials, particularly in sensing, future electronics, energy generation and healthcare; and a videoconference with Uri Peskin, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the Technion in Israel to discuss the implementation of a new module in Israels chemistry curriculum, From Nano-Scale Chemistry to Microelectronics. Entrepreneur Kam Memarzia is introducing Hatter participants to NanoMission, the worlds first scientifically accurate interactive 3-D learning game based on improving the understanding of nanoscience and nanotechnology among school students. The aim of his product, which would work well on the up-to-date computers with which ORT schools are equipped, should please Dr Berenfeld: to inspire and introduce some of the worlds brightest teenagers to nanotechnology, opening their eyes to choosing it as a career. Through a series of imaginative scenarios, from the creation of life-saving nano-medicines to the identification and eradication of harmful organisms within a drop of water, players are challenged in ways that promote learning. One of the Hatter Seminar participants, biology teacher Eric Kincaid, has given it a thumbs-up. Speaking on the second day of the seminar, Mr Kincaid, from Morganstown, West Virginia, said: The presenters have been very well versed in the topic and have helped to dispel some misconceptions we may have had. They are realistic people who are working in the area and its good to have them rather than look at nano-fiction. Welcoming Mr Kincaid and the other participants, World ORT Past President Sir Maurice Hatter encapsulated the mission of the Seminar. ORT prides itself on giving its students an education that will help them to achieve success in a constantly changing world, Sir Maurice said. To accomplish this we have to constantly innovate, both in the subjects that we teach and the methods we use to teach them. The Hatter seminars provide our leading teaching staff with the opportunity to look closely at important emerging topics and to begin the process of absorbing them into our curriculum. World ORT Director General Robert Singer thanked Sir Maurice and his family for their devoted support to ORTs need to equip its teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to tackle topics and issues that will dominate the educational curriculum in years to come. Taking the long view also means that we have somehow to rise above the current adverse economic climate and maintain our investment in the professional development of our dedicated staff and the education of our students, Mr Singer said. That is why I believe so strongly in the importance of our teacher training programme of which this seminar is a part and why all of us at ORT owe a debt of gratitude to those who make it possible. Vladimir Dribinskiy, Head of World ORTs Education and Technology Department, which organised the Seminar, added: One of the implications of nanotechnologies and material sciences which is of particular importance to World ORT as an educational organisation is the wide range of new professions which will be created. This is a new window of opportunity for the employability and future careers of World ORT students. ORT educational institutions must be fully prepared for this development.