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CNSI program at UCLA helps bring nanoscience to high school classrooms

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As developments in nanoscience and nanotechnology reshape our world on a daily basis, the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA is helping Los Angeles–area high school science teachers incorporate these subjects into their standard core curriculum.
 
The High School Nanoscience Program introduces teachers wishing to expand their curricula to nanoscience concepts and helps them integrate nanoscience experiments into the prescribed high school program of study. In this way, required fundamental science concepts can be taught while introducing students to this burgeoning new field.
 
The workshops, which are offered one Saturday each month at UCLA, run through May 16, 2009.
 
The program, which began in 2002, is a collaborative effort of the CNSI; the NSF-funded IGERT Materials Creation Training Program (MCTP) at UCLA; and the UCLA Science Project, the science outreach arm of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. It involves a group of about 30 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars associated with the CNSI and the MCTP, who lead the workshops and help prepare experiment kits for teachers to use in their classrooms.
 
The experiments, many of which were developed at UCLA and can be readily conducted by high school students, demonstrate fundamental concepts about chemistry, physics, biology and engineering. In addition, they highlight the primary concept of nanoscience — that larger materials, when made very small, can have very different properties. The experiments are intellectually engaging and are an excellent way to bring excitement to the high school science curriculum.
 
"These workshops provide an opportunity to stimulate interest in nanotechnology among the young people in our communities," said Sarah Tolbert, UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry and head of the program. "The High School Nanoscience Program is designed to excite the natural curiosity in high school students. This is how we educate and motivate the next generation of young scientists to solve challenging technological problems."
 
The program currently offers eight experiments, with more in development, that give students hands-on experience with materials, methods and devices used in nanoscience and nanotechnology, including self-assembly, magnetic fluids, chemical sensors, solar cells, photolithography, superhydrophobic surface (or the lotus effect), water filtration and the biotoxicity of nanoscale systems compared to similar materials in bulk form.
 
In addition to providing teachers with the scientific background needed to understand and explain the experiments to their students, workshop instructors illuminate how the experiments fit within the California state science standards.
 
The outreach program provides all of the necessary supplies to the teachers so that they can perform the experiments in their classrooms.
 
So far, the program has received such a positive response from participating teachers that there is currently a waiting list to participate.
 
The High School Nanoscience Program is part of the CNSI's ongoing science education and outreach program to Los Angeles communities and schools. Since its inception in 2000, the institute has counted community outreach as a fundamental part of its mission.
 
"The CNSI is committed to fostering enthusiasm for advanced science within our local school systems," said Leonard H. Rome, the institute's interim director. "The next generation of graduate students who will study nanoscience and nanotechnology are in middle and high school today."
 
Last spring, the CNSI hosted a CNSI High School Day during which 180 Los Angeles area high school students attended workshops and demonstrations of scientific experiments as an introduction to nanoscience and nanotechnology. The day's events included tours of the CNSI building and workshops led by UCLA graduate students on nanoscale energy generation. The high school students also participated in real nanoscale imaging experiments. Using state-of-the-art microscopes, they viewed images of the hepatitis C virus, a zebrafish brain in 3-D and the structure of DNA. They also toured the UCLA Nano Fabrication Facility.
 
The California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA is an integrated research center operating jointly at UCLA and the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose mission is to foster interdisciplinary collaborations for discoveries in nanosystems and nanotechnology; train the next generation of scientists, educators and technology leaders; and facilitate partnerships with industry, fueling economic development and promoting the social well-being of California, the United States and the world. The CNSI was established in 2000 with $100 million from the state of California and an additional $250 million in federal research grants and industry funding. At the institute, scientists in the areas of biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, computational science and engineering are measuring, modifying and manipulating the building blocks of our world — atoms and molecules. These scientists benefit from an integrated laboratory culture enabling them to conduct dynamic research at the nanoscale, leading to significant breakthroughs in the areas of health, energy, the environment and information technology. For more information, visit www.cnsi.ucla.edu.
 
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer more than 323 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Four alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize. For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom.
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