This class was developed under a special grant from the National Science Foundation. Its goal is to provide a lab-based hands-on introduction to nanoscience and nanotechnology for early undergraduates of any major (there are no pre-requisites beyond normal college-track high school physics, chemistry & math).
So what does this class cover? First, at the nanoscale, we must confront the fact that Newton’s sensible laws are replaced by the weirdness of quantum mechanics (hence the class’s Wizard of Oz subtitle). The details are bewildering, but for this class you only need to know that electrons begin to act like waves. But all waves act basically the same way. And that means to anticipate how weird electron waves might behave, we can (literally) start by experimenting with water waves (for instance, water waves will explain why manufacturers are putting nanoparticles into sun block).
The second thing that changes at the nanoscale, is that WE can no longer manufacture things directly. Micro-assembly techniques (such as those used in making the integrated circuits of your computer/cell phone/PDA) are based on micro-photography. And images just won’t focus to smaller than a wavelength of light (something we’ll also show with the water waves). But light’s wavelength is at least 10X too large to pattern things at the nanoscale. Instead we have to rely on a process called “self-assembly.” That is, we have to design the parts so they know how we want them to finally come together. The ultimate example of self-assembly? DNA synthesis of protein. But DNA might also someday help us to self-assemble nano electronic circuits. Some people spend years studying self-assembly and DNA. But in this class you’ll find that we can learn the essentials in just a few classes.
But after you’ve programmed the parts to “self-assemble” at the nanoscale, how do you know if they got it right? One way is to use distant cousins of the old-fashion record player called the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) and Scanning Tunneling Microscope (whose invention earned two researchers Nobel Prizes). We used the NSF grant to buy six of these instruments. In the labs, you will use these tools to see individual atoms. (To view our full virtual reality recreations of these instruments, click on the photos above).
Finally, we’ll also discuss the boundary between nanoscience and nanotechnology. There is a heck of a lot of the former but not, as yet, a whole lot of the latter. The distinction has produced immense confusion in media from Scientific American to science fiction. What is real? What stands a good chance (or virtually no chance) of ever becoming real? And for the things that do become real, how might they affect us, and the other inhabitants of this world?
||Textbook: Nanotechnology - Understanding Small Systems,
3rd Edition, Ben Rogers, Sumita Pennathur and Jesse Adams,
CRC Press - Taylor & Francis Group (2011),