UIUC’s Nano CEMMS summer institute: new “bridges” and new projects (some with sci-fi in mind!)

In my last post, I wrote about some of the amazing advantages our society may enjoy thanks to research being done right now in nanotechnology, specifically at the UIUC Nano CEMMS labs.  The nice thing about the UIUC Nano CEMMS UNITE institute is that I can use a lot of the resources that we worked with, including some very technical equipment!  I am looking forward to bringing new inquiry on where technology is going by putting some nano into the following projects:

  • During our first semester (when we teach current events), I hope to build a project around nanotechnology’s future impacts on society by looking at some of the products that nanoscience is inspiring or helping create.  A great resource for that will be http://www.nanotechproject.org/inventories.  An engaging question to pose to my gamers might be: “How far are we away from Halo gear?  We could look at the Department of Defense’s vision for the next super soldier and how close MIT is getting in development of such technologies.  As an entry event, I plan on checking out some Nitinol to play with to show how nano-engineering is changing the way we see materials, etc..  I imagine my students studying the dystopias that many comic books like New Gen create when the writers envision when and how technology goes wrong.  While I haven’t read the series myself, I am hoping I can find some copies to perhaps use as mentor texts as I guide students through writing narratives that might include some of the latest nanotech developments.  With any luck, I may even be able to Skype with some creators or artists, too!  I see on their website there’s a movie in production…  (Of to Twitter I go… “building bridges!”  Help the petitioning process by Tweeting New Gen @newgenuniverse)
  • Going after an environmental current events topic, I started asking questions about studying water purity at the nano scale.  After watching the Gasland this summer, the issues around hydraulic fracturing have been on my mind a bit.  (See how I played on the term “fracking” in a recent Ignite talk at NTAC.)  I met with a great educational outreach person at the UIUC WaterCAMPWS.  There, we talked about many options in exploring water issues.  With this summer’s discourse always returning to the heat, and consequently the drought, our water sources may finally get some attention as we discuss how much is used for industry, agriculture, home use, etc..  There are many avenues I can pursue here, and the WaterCAMPWS seems very happy to get my classroom in touch with researchers and students who are looking at filtering techniques and governmental water regulations.  Contacts were even suggested with the United States Geological Survey here in Champaign.
  • Finally, for the popular and successful “Murder We Wrote” project where students write their own crime dramas (around CSI or Law and Order), I will be asking students to develop a list of samples they would like to see at the micron or nanometer scale using the CEMMS’s scanning electron microscope.  I can use these images to have students write with great detail when investigators are looking at evidence of a crime, etc.

I hope all of this summer study will become fruitful.  I’m excited to have some fresh, new project ideas that delve into relevant topics that draw on many interests.  Science and technology…wait, and writing?!  Huzzah!

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