Phyllis Wang, a junior in chemical engineering, prepares samples of silver nanoplate solutions in a WUSTL lab. A new program will allow undergraduates to study nanotechnology and to work on nanotechnology-related research projects.
As nanotechnology is used to improve everything from gym socks to solar cells, there is increasing demand for scientists and engineers who can think, measure and work on the nanometer scale, that is, in billionths of a meter.
To meet this demand, Washington University in St. Louis is starting a Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education (NUE) program with a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation.
The NUE program, which will take applicants in the fall of 2011, has two components. The first is a new minor in nanotechnology open to any undergraduate pursuing a major in engineering, biology, physics or chemistry. The second is a summer fellowship open to undergraduates to develop nanotechnology teaching modules for K-12 students.
The minor requires the completion of 15 credit units, a combination of required and elective courses. All students will begin with “Introduction to Nanotechnology,” a new course taught by Younan Xia, PhD, the James M. McKelvey Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences and a professor of radiology in the School of Medicine, with guest lectures by other faculty members who work in the field of nanotechnology.
On completion of this class, students will take a personalized lab course to be held in WUSTL’s Nanotechnology Research Facility (NRF), which the university built after it was invited to join the 14-member National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN). The NRF already has established a user-friendly training program that encourages independent use of the state-of-the-art instrumentation in the facility.
Dong Qin, PhD (center), associate dean for research in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, helps Aaron Huang (left), a junior in chemical engineering, and Jennifer Grant (right), a sophomore in engineering, with the Scanning Electron Microscope in the Nanotechnology Research Facility. Training on the facility’s instruments will be part of the nanotechnology minor.
After students are individually trained, they will be able to complete practice sessions at times that fit their own schedules. The laboratory course will be taught by Dong Qin, PhD, associate dean for research in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and NNIN site director, and the facility’s technical staff.
Qin is also the principal investigator for the NSF-NUE grant. “During her career, Dr. Qin has been extremely successful in obtaining peer evaluated support in the field of nanotechnology,” say Ralph S. Quatrano, PhD, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the Spencer T. Olin Professor. “This award is yet another example of how her distinguished programs will aide undergraduate students at Washington University in their own studies and to promote the use of nanotechnology in K-12 settings. We are very proud of Dr. Qin’s work and her dedication to this important endeavor.”
After completing the lab class, students will begin research in the laboratory of a participating faculty member. Because of WUSTL’s depth in this area, students will have many projects from which to choose. They might work, for example, with quantum dots inside microspheres covered with antibodies; miniature devices that can detect specific biomolecules or investigate the stress response of bacteria to nanoparticles; or learn how to produce nanostructures using soft lithography, wet chemistry or flame-based processes.
Phyllis Wang, a junior in chemical engineering who completed an NRF internship last year, says her training made her a much more valuable lab team member.
“I began working on nanofiber synthesis in the Xia lab my freshman year,” she says, “and transferred to the new NRF lab my sophomore year, where I learned how to use scanning and transmission microscopy, dynamic light scattering and mass spectrometry to analyze nanoparticles.
“Perhaps the most valuable thing I gleaned from the NRF was learning how to think and work independently. Now, as a junior, I have returned to the Xia lab, armed with a strong technical background in nanomaterials that I believe will allow me to contribute a great deal more than I did as a freshman.”
The second part of the NUE program consists of 10 summer fellowships that will allow undergraduate students to learn about nanotechnology and to use what they learn to develop Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) models for K-12 students. (POGIL is an inquiry-based teaching method.) The POGIL modules the undergraduates design will be given to the Saint Louis Science Center for use in their Youth Education Science program.
Qin and Xia have accumulated interesting kit parts such as “magic” hydrophobic sand, shape memory alloys, molecular modeling kits and the materials for making ferrofluids, but, Qin says, they want the students to invent new POGIL modules more relevant to current research at WUSTL.
Qin and Xia designed the NUE program to provide undergraduate students with an interdisciplinary research experience with a strong hands-on component. They hope the students will emerge with the integrated knowledge of modern engineering that will allow them to become informed citizens and competitive workers.