On March 22, 2006, thirty-seven fifth graders from St. Athanasius School came to Northwestern for
the morning to participate in "NanoDay," a half-day of activities designed to spark student interest
in nanoscience and technology. First, the students went to watch a variety of demonstrations lead by
Profs Art Schmidt and Chandrasekhar. Students then went to a hands-on activity: building model LEGO ® atomic
force microscopes (AFMs)!
The students were shown an example LEGO ® microscope, and told that they were going to build their
own model microscope, similar in function but of unique design. The middle school students dove straight
into the project, eager to create their own microscope. Several graduate students and postdocs floated
around from group to group, answering questions and providing help when it was requested. Within the
hour, each group had a unique LEGO ® model AFM microscope. These microscopes aren't just fun to look
at, they also produce real data which can be graphed in Excel and interpreted. This is done by reflecting
a laser off the back of a cantilever, onto a piece of graph paper. The laser serves to amplify the motion
of the cantilever as it drags across the surface of the sample. Students begin by determining a zero
point for the undeflected cantilever, and then measuring the laser motion as the sample is moved beneath
the tip and causes the cantilever to rise and fall.
At the end of the activities, each student received a take-home "Try This!" Nanokit developed
by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prof Chandrasekhar of the physics department and Emma Tevaarwerk
of the National Center for Learning & Teaching in Nanoscale Science & Engineering (NCLT) coordinated
the event. Graduate students and postdocs from the physics department and NCLT helped out, including
Dima Ruzemtov (video), Paul Cadden-Zamindky, Johannes Pollanen, Casey Law, Jeremy Sepinsky, Sourav Chatterjee,
and Genya Takeda. The event was sponsored by the Physics Department and the NCLT.
postdoc shows middle schoolers how to measure with LEGO ® AFM. Watch
video clip (.mov) | Download
Components of a LEGO ® microscope build by
middle school students
Data plotted in chart
Professor Art Schmidt demos
Boy and girl working together
Boys with microscope
Group of girls take data using the LEGO ® microscope they have built
If you are interested in attending the next NanoDay at Northwestern, please contact administrator,
or (847) 491 3607.