Get your nano on

nano_daysThe best science is accessible science, especially for children. Ask anyone who grew up with Bill Nye the Science Guy or even Mr. Wizard. Often such accessibility is what launches a career or a lifelong interest in science. It can change lives. Perhaps that will happen this weekend at the Explore More Discovery Museum in downtown Harrisonburg.

On Sunday (April 14), students and faculty from James Madison University will gather at Harrisonburg’s Explore More Discovery Museum to explore nanotechnology with any children who come between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. Nanoscience is the study of very small things — nanometers, a billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of these ultra small things — like atoms and particles — to create new behaviors and unexpected results.

According to Dr. Costel Constantin, who teaches physics and astronomy at JMU, the need for developing young scientists is critical. He writes:

At a time when the rapid advances in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology require an increasing number of skilled personnel, coincidentally, the recruitment of U.S. students to science is at an all time low. According to the National Science Foundation by the year 2015, there will be a need for two million workers worldwide in these fields. Of these, nearly one million will be needed in the U.S. Furthermore, an additional of five million workers will be needed in support areas for these fields. To develop this workforce, inclusion of nanotechnology in K-12 education should start with the primary education and continue all the way to high school level.

This need prompted the JMU faculty and local K-12 science teachers to found the Shenandoah Valley Nanoscience Outreach Collaboration in 2011. SVNOC’s goal is to help teachers bring nanoscience into local classrooms. The NanoDays/Making Stuff event is one part of this effort.

On Sunday afternoon, Costel and his colleagues in the departments of physics and chemistry, along with current JMU physics majors, will lead visiting students through hands-on experiments. They’ll also explore current nano research with adults and older children. According to Lisa Shull (’85,’91M), the museum’s executive director, “It’s a great event for the whole family, children of all ages and parents.” Anyone can participate and it’s free.

But the children aren’t the only ones who will benefit. NanoDays is an opportunity for current JMU students to give back to the local community. And, as Costel writes, “Physics students who help with the event will gain invaluable experience in being able to present the science to kids of all ages.”

Not only does the event make science fun for children, it makes it available and social. This kind of overlap between collegians and local children is priceless and can be inspirational. Who wouldn’t be interested in learning about sand that refuses to get wet even under water or water that refuses to spill, two of the planned activities? And what fifth grader isn’t eager to interact with a cool college student? But it’s far more than a neat idea; it’s important science.

“It is important that everybody is able to learn about nanotechnology because it is impacting our lives considerably,” Costel writes. “If you’ve ever wondered how nano transistors and quantum computers work, or how we create smaller and small batteries that can last longer than the conventional Li-based ones, or how we can create smarter drugs that can cure cancer, diabetes and other life threatening diseases, then Nanotechnology can give you an answer.”

Those answers will begin with fun science on Sunday at 1 p.m. For more information, click the museum’s link above or visit them on Facebook.

And if you’d like to get a taste of the opposite of nano (think gigantic), check out the newest issue of Madison magazine, which should hit newsstands and mailboxes very soon. On page 22, you’ll find a story written by Eric Gorton (’86,’09M), public affairs associate, about groundbreaking research into megamasers being conducted by another JMU Constantin, Anca Constantin, professor of physics and astronomy.

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About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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