In July 2011, about 150 blind high school students from all over the United States gathered for one week to learn about science and technology at the biannual Youth Slam summer camp organized by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) at the Towson University campus near Baltimore, MD. The NFB Youth Slam is a five-day STEM academy designed to engage and inspire the next generation of blind youth to consider careers falsely believed to be impossible for the blind. The participating students learned the science behind building iPod apps, used cutting-edge equipment and technology to determine chemical reactions, built robots, and learned how to use non-visual techniques to perform a real dissection on sharks.
This year ten students took part in a new addition to the program – a Nanoscience Track. The program was led by Dr. Vladimir Aksyuk, a scientist with the Center of Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Dr. Aksyuk collaborated with several NISE Net partners to develop this nanoscience track including: the Lawrence Hall of Science who shared their High School Nanotechnology Summer Camp Framework; the Museum of Life and Science who shared their haptic force feedback computer simulations of the nanoscale world; and scientists at the University of North Carolina and 3rdTech Inc. who shared their NanoManipulator, a haptic force feedback computer software program designed to provide real-time manipulation and visualizations of objects at the nanoscale.
Students in this track learned about the unique phenomena at the nanoscale, the measurement tools scientists use to observe them and the techniques for creating nanoscale structures. Through the haptic feedback simulations and the NanoManipulator they felt with their own hands how an Atomic Force Microscope probe senses nanostructures and individual atoms on a surface. A similar program developed by the NISE Net is the "Exploring Tools - Special Microscopes", a hands-on activity in which visitors use a flexible magnet as a model for a scanning probe microscope.
Finally, you may be interested in reading more about the use of haptics in education or in visualizing without vision from Gail Jones, a NISE Network advisor. If you’re interested in learning more about the Youth Slam and the National Federation of the Blind, please get in touch with Natalie Shaheen firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the NFB on Twitter.