What is a Nanometer?

Lesson focuses on how to measure at the nano scale and provides students with an understanding of how small a nanometer really is. Students work in teams and measure a range of everyday classroom items, first using metric rulers and then convert the results to the nano scale.

  • Learn about nanotechnology.
  • Learn about scale.
  • Learn about engineering design.
  • Learn about teamwork and working in groups.

Age Levels: 8 – 12

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Materials

  • Ruler
  • Eraser
  • Pencil
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Other classroom objects of your selection (i.e. child’s scissors, used crayon, index card, piece of chalk, calculator, doorknob, roll of tape)

Design Challenge

You are part of a team of engineers who has been given the challenge of measuring ten objects in your classroom at the nano scale — in nanometers (nm). Measure each object in millimeters and then convert using the following formula: 1 millimeter = 1,000,000 nanometers or 1 centimeter = 10,000,000 nanometers.

Criteria

  • Measure each object in millimeters and then convert using the formula

Constraints

Use only the materials provided.

Procedure

  1. Break class into teams of 2-3.
  2. Hand out the What is a Nanometer worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Discuss the topics in the Background Concepts Section.
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials.
  5. Provide each team with their materials.
  6. Explain that students must work as a team to determine the measurement in nanometers of ten classroom objects.
  7. Announce the amount of time they have to complete the assignment (1 hour recommended).
  8. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  9. Students meet and complete the assignment.
  10. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  11. For more content on the topic, see the “Digging Deeper” section.

Optional Model-making Extension

Have students build a model representing how when working at the nano scale, surface area can be increased. This could be done with basketball that has table tennis or ping pong balls attached all over the surface. This will help visually illustrate how surface area can be manipulated at the nano scale.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. What was the most surprising thing you learned about nanotechnology during this activity?
  2. Do you think you would be able to see an element that was 10 nanometers wide without the aid of technology?
  3. If a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick, how do you think an engineer would go about moving an element that is only 30 nanometers thick — such as the gold particle to the right?
  4. Do you think that engineers working at the nano scale have a harder time doing their work than engineers who are working with larger objects, such as batteries, rockets, or sheets of steel?Why?
  5. Do you think that nanotechnology might have the most impact on the development of materials, improvements in energy options, or in advances in healthcare?  Why?

Time Modification

The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.

Divide into teams
Review the challenge and criteria constraints
Brainstorm possible solutions (sketch while you brainstorm!)
Choose best solution and build a prototype
Test then redesign until solution is optimized
Reflect as a team and debrief as a class

Teacher Resource
Measuring Nano – Sample Completed Student Worksheet

JVV-TM

You are part of a team of engineers who has been given the challenge of measuring ten objects in your classroom at the nano scale — in nanometers (nm). Measure each object in millimeters, and then convert using the following formula:

1 millimeter = 1,000,000 nanometers

or

1 centimeter = 10,000,000 nanometers

So, if you used a crayon that was 4 centimeters long, it would also be 40,000,000 nanometers in length.

Measuring Phase

Complete the following measurements as a group: (examples below) Classroom Object Original Measurement Measurement in Nanometers

  1. Dull edge child’s scissor 11 centimeters 110,000,000 nanometers
  2. New pencil with eraser 19 centimeters 190,000,000 nanometers
  3. Used crayon 9 centimeters 90,000,000 nanometers
  4. Pencil Eraser 5.5 centimeters 55,000,000 nanometers
  5. Pencil Sharpener 2.55 centimeters 25,500,000 nanometers
  6. Index card height 12.55 centimeters 125,500,000 nanometers
  7. Used piece of chalk 23.5 millimeters 23,500,000 nanometers
  8. Calculator 92.75 millimeters 92,750,000 nanometers
  9. Doorknob 50.25 millimeters 50,250,000 nanometers
  10. Roll of tape 47.55 millimeters 47,550,000 nanometers

What is Nanotechnology?
Imagine being able to observe the motion of a red blood cell as it moves through your vein. What would it be like to observe the sodium and chlorine atoms as they get close enough to actually transfer electrons and form a salt crystal or observe the vibration of molecules as the temperature rises in a pan of water? Because of tools or ‘scopes’ that have been developed and improved over the last few decades we can observe situations like many of the examples at the start of this paragraph. This ability to observe, measure and even manipulate materials at the molecular or atomic scale is called nanotechnology or nanoscience. If we have a nano “something” we have one billionth of that something. Scientists and engineers apply the nano prefix to many “somethings” including meters (length), seconds (time), liters (volume) and grams (mass) to represent what is understandably a very small quantity. Most often nano is applied to the length scale and we measure and talk about nanometers (nm). Individual atoms are smaller than 1 nm in diameter, with it taking about 10 hydrogen atoms in a row to create a line 1 nm in length. Other atoms are larger than hydrogen but still have diameters less than a nanometer. A typical virus is about 100 nm in diameter and a bacterium is about 1000 nm head to tail. The tools that have allowed us to observe the previously invisible world of the nanoscale are the Atomic Force Microscope and the Scanning Electron Microscope.

How Big is Small?
It can be hard to visualize how small things are at the nanoscale. The following exercise can help you visualize how big small can be! Consider a bowling ball, a billiard ball, a tennis ball, a golf ball, a marble, and a pea. Think about the relative size of these items.

galitskaya-Bigstock.com

Scanning Electron Microscope
The scanning electron microscope is a special type of electron microscope that creates images of a sample surface by scanning it with a high energy beam of electrons in a raster scan pattern. In a raster scan, an image is cut up into a sequence of (usually horizontal) strips known as “scan lines.” The electrons interact with the atoms that make up the sample and produce signals that provide data about the surface’s shape, composition, and even whether it can conduct electricity. Many images taken with scanning electron microscopes maybe viewed at www.dartmouth.edu/~emlab/gallery.

How Small is Small?
It can be challenging to envision just how small a nanometer is!  What is a Nanometer? A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. But how big is that?

The chart below should help you understand how small a nano really is. Notice that a centimeter is 1/100th of a meter. That also means that a meter is 100 times as big as a centimeter. If an object were a meter wide, it would also be 1,000,000,000 nanometers wide. So something that is only 1 nm wide is very small indeed.

Symbol Relative Size
meter m Three feet or one yard
centimeter cm 1/100 of a meter, about half of an inch
millimeter mm 1/1,000 of a meter
micrometer or a micron µm 1/1,000,000 of a meter, often called a micron
nanometer nm 1/1,000,000,000 of a meter

Internet Connections

  • National Nanotechnology Initiative (www.nano.gov)
  • Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility Images (www.dartmouth.edu/~emlab/gallery)

Recommended Reading

  • Nanotechnology For Dummies (ISBN: 978-0470891919)
  • Nanotechnology: Understanding Small Systems (ISBN: 978-1138072688)

Writing Activity

Write an essay or a paragraph with three examples about how the invention of the electron microscope has impacted the world.

Global Math Standard Aligned Lesson Concepts
Number and Operations Basic Calculations, Formulas
Algebra
Geometry (Shape and Space)
Measurement Charting and presentation
Data Handling and Analysis Evaluation of Data Results, comparison with other student results
Statistical Investigation
Probability and Estimation Predicting outcomes
Global Science Standard Aligned Lesson Concepts
 Materials and Properties Conductors and Insulators, Testing
Environment/Ecology
Forces and Motion
Energy
 Electricity/Magnetism Electric Circuitry
Community and Health
Natural Resources
Earth Systems
 Biology/Bioengineering Wearables and Sensors
Chemistry
Physics (light, sound, heat)
Global Technology Standard Aligned Lesson Concepts
Information Technology Coding
Systems Integration of parts to a whole
Innovation Wearables and Sensors
Data Organization
Data Representation Chart Development and Presentation
Overarching Skills Aligned Lesson Concepts
Communication Presentation and Audience Feedback
Critical Thinking
Creativity Design and Implementation of Design
Collaboration Teamwork
Problem Solving Project Planning
Organization Parts Management
Scientific Thinking/Research
Careers and Degrees

How Big is Small?

It can be hard to visualize how small things are at the nanoscale.  The following exercise can help you visualize how big small can be!

The following are drawings of items you may recognize…. a bowling ball, a billiard ball, a tennis ball, a golf ball, a marble, and a pea.  Think about the relative size of these items.

Now take a look at the chart below that was developed by the National Cancer Institute (U.S.) and think about how much smaller the various items are…moving down from the familiar tennis ball.  The “.” on this page is 1,000,000 microns — quite gigantic compared to a virus or a single molecule of water (H20).

It can be challenging to envision just how small a nanometer is!

 

What is a Nanometer?

A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.  But how big is that?  The chart below should help you understand how small a nano really is.  Notice that a centimeter is 1/100th of a meter.  That also means that a meter is 100 times as big as a centimeter.  If an object were a meter wide, it would also be 1,000,000,000 nanometers wide.  So something that is only 1 nm wide is very small indeed.

 

The picture to the right is of Single gold nanoparticle crystals formed using radiolysis at Sandia National Laboratory’s Gamma Irradiation Facility.

The gold nanoparticle is approximately 30 nm in size.

Symbol Relative Size
meter m about three feet or one yard
centimeter cm 1/100 of a meter, about half of an inch
millimeter mm 1/1,000 of a meter
micrometer or a micron µm 1/1,000,000 of a meter, often called a micron
nanometer nm 1/1,000,000,000 of a meter

Measuring in Nanometers:

You are part of a team of engineers who has been given the challenge of measuring ten objects in your classroom at the nano scale — in nanometers (nm).

Measure each object in millimeters, and then convert using the following formula:

1 millimeter = 1,000,000 nanometers

or

1 centimeter = 10,000,000 nanometers

So, if used crayon was 4 centimeters long, it would also be 40,000,000 nanometers in length.

Measuring Phase

Complete the following measurements as a group:

Classroom Object  Original Measurement Measurement in Nanometers
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

Evaluation Phase
Complete the following questions as a group:

1. What was the most surprising thing you learned about nanotechnology during this activity?

 

 

 

2. Do you think you would be able to see an element that was 10 nanometers wide without the aid of technology?

 

 

3. If a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick, how do you think an engineer would go about moving an element that is only 30 nanometers thick — such as the gold particle to the right?

 

 

 

4. Do you think that engineers working at the nano scale have a harder time doing their work than engineers who are working with larger objects, such as batteries, rockets, or sheets of steel? Why?

 

 

5. Do you think that nanotechnology might have the most impact on the development of materials, improvements in energy options, or in advances in healthcare? Why?

Lesson Plan Translation

Additional Translation Resources