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Partner Highlight: Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY - Adventures in Nanoscience

Susan Frank, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory logo

Brookhaven National Laboratory’s (BNL) Science Learning Center pivoted from in-person to virtual summer programs for students entering 4th to 6th grade. Each participant that registered for the “Adventures in Nanoscience” program received a  program “kit” which was packed with supplies to conduct the various hands-on activities. Many of these activities were inspired by the NISE Network’s Explore Science: Zoom into Nano kit. Some introductory activities included “How Big is Your Hand” and “Cutting it Down to Nano”. Participants were encouraged to share their daily nano experiences and demonstrate them to friends and family.

All programs were linked to research being conducted by the scientific staff at BNL’s Center for Functional NanoMaterials. This lead to the program structure in which each day focused on a different nano theme for an hour, while allowing for conversations and demonstrations over the Zoom platform. 

Day 1 of the virtual summer program focused on size and scale and how properties change at the nanoscale. Students had a chance to try the reaction rate experiment, Exploring Properties - Surface Area, using Alka-Seltzer tablets as well as exploring unusual properties at the nanoscale by replicating the tiny teacup demonstration, Exploring Forces - Gravity.

A student favorite was the modified Hydrophobic/ Hydrophilic activity comparing Magic sand and regular sand (Exploring Products - Nano Sand activity). This activity never fails to engage! BNL made a BIG deal of keeping all the water at a safe distance from all electronics, especially the computers. To simulate proper lab safety protocols students were encouraged to wear the goggles which were included in their kits. Introducing hydrophobicity today was a segway to the following day.

Day 2 focused on looking at nano in nature. Participants performed “water drop tests'' on 5 different materials in their program kit. Students kept notes about the shape of the drops on each material and observed the angle of the drops dripping off each surface. Connections were made resulting in a discussion of how plants use natural nanostructures to funnel water to their roots and to clean off leaves. Students continued to have fun by trying the same experiment on materials found at home including lettuce, kale, and other common materials. Continuing with the day’s theme students learned about current research inspired by nature at the nanoscale and how research on the structure of moth-eyes could lead to more efficient solar panels.

Day 3 explored manipulating things at the nanoscale including the two main ways to make nanoscale objects and devices known as top-down and bottom-up techniques. We included materials to make Sweet Self Assembly. This activity worked well using a fork to mix the tasty concoctions and students supplied their own favorite flavoring. Maple syrup was a winner!

Day 4 focused on the tools needed to study nanoscale structures. We included Feel the Nanomagnets (Exploring Tools - Special Microscopes activity) in our kits and a fun hour was spent modeling graphene in its various forms using mini marshmallows and toothpicks. Students pretended to be Nobel Prize-winning researchers using tape to pull apart many layers of graphite while learning about Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov’s 2010 Nobel Prize-winning experiment (Exploring Materials - Graphene activity)

The last day, Day 5, focused on innovative products resulting from scientific and engineering advances at the nanoscale. Participants did experiments using muscle wire springs compared to steel springs, similar to the Exploring Materials - Memory Metal activity. 

Pulling the week together we invited student interns working during the summer at the CFN to share their STEM experiences, their current research at BNL, and their unique stories that led them to an interest in science and STEM careers. Hopefully, we’ll see some of these younger students returning as student interns in the future! 

A big thank you to the NISE Network for all of the graphics and resources to help make this a fun experience for us as well as our young scientists!