In the cutting-edge science of nanotechnology, size matters.
Starting tomorrow, a new exhibit on the UCSB campus will give students and community members an opportunity to see why. The California NanoScience Institute’s “Too Small To See-2” is a hands-on exhibit designed at Cornell University to introduce people to the basic concepts of nanotechnology.
At just 1,500 square feet, the exhibit is a smaller – or nano – version of the original “Too Small To See” exhibit, which began a national tour in 2006. The tiny version, on display for the first time at UCSB at Elings Hall, is designed to fit in smaller buildings like local libraries.
The exhibit features seven main stations, including “Zoom Into Nano,” a computerized set where guests can turn a wheel to see magnified images of a butterfly or a computer chip. The images, created using both an optical and an electron microscope, range from 1x to 100,000x magnification. The exhibit also includes “Build a Molecule” stations with small wooden balls and connector pieces that participants can shape into glucose or tryptophan molecules. A similar station introduces visitors to carbon nanotubes – extremely strong strands of carbon molecules with unique electrical properties due to an unusual three-bond-per-atom structure.
According to CNSI INSCITES Academic Coordinator Meredith Murr, the exhibit appeals to all ages despite the simple language and hands-on nature of the displays.
“It was designed for ages 8-13,” Murr said. “But really it is completely appropriate for anyone older.”
Nanotechnology is the study of molecules on a very small scale. One nanometer equals .000000001 meters. On the nanoscale, materials behave differently than the same substance on a larger scale – nanosilver has antibacterial properties and can function as wound dressing or a disinfectant coating on public surfaces like ATM keypads or handrails. Current uses of nanoparticles outside of the lab include special materials that will not stain, new adhesives and tiny, 10nm transistors for use in laptops and cell phones. Carbon nanotubes are added to materials used to make high-end bicycles and tennis rackets.
Electrical and computer engineering professor and CNSI Scientific Director Evelyn Hu said the institute is working to make advances which are potentially applicable to medical and consumer markets.
“We focus more on the fundamental research that underlies discoveries,” Hu said. “[But] we would like to develop programs to make that transition to the marketplace easier to accomplish.”
UCSB is home to the California NanoScience Institute, where researchers are leading the field of study in nanotechnology. Opened in 2000 as one of four California Institutes for Science and Innovation, the center includes about 60 researchers from a wide range of fields including biochemistry, computer science and materials and also has a branch at UCLA.
According to Hu, CNSI is already making large advances in important fields, as well as enjoying success in the secondary goal of community outreach and education.
“I think we’ve had a lot of successes,” Hu said. “Large collective scientific impact, outstanding education programs and setting up unique, shared laboratory facilities that will enable future research.”