Nanotechnology presents unique challenges when it comes to scientific communication: the subject matter is less clear than in other fields, and while nanotechnology is already impacting our daily lives, it is difficult to pin point its effect. The Nanoinventum project is trying to face this problem at the base, by helping children understand it from a young age. Their program asks kids to identify problems in their lives and design nanorobots to try and fix them.
ICMAB Researcher Judit Morlà is one of the researchers that has visited schools to help kids devise their nanorobots: “The fact that they had to think up a nanorobot for a biomedical application makes it a very personal project, since a lot of the children made up a design to fight the illness of a sibling, or to cure teeth cavities (we all know going to the dentist is not enjoyable…)”.
Nanoinventum also aims to increase the interest of the younger generations in the broader field of STEM, something they find has been dropping for some time now. A study by FECYT and Fundació "la Caixa" shows that outreach actions such as this have an effect on the general interest in pursuing a career in science –an increase of 5.6 % across all students, and an increase of 12.8 % with students with worse academic performances-.
To do so, the Nanoinventum projects has set up a three-part program. It starts with the training of the teachers, providing them with the theoretical and practical tools to introduce the required concepts in the class. This education is done with the Centre de Recursos i Innovació Pedagògica de la Generalitat de Catalunya (CESIRE), and the information is tightly woven with the curriculum the students have to cover in class.
The next step is the training of the students, who will learn about nanotechnology through NANOEXPLORA, a kit that contains information and 8 experiments that cover all the basics to be taught in class.
Finally, the design process. The students identify a problem and use their new knowledge in nanoscience to come up with a nanorobot design that can face their issue. These designs are finally presented in a Scientific Fair, with prizes to the best projects presented!
To aid in the design of the nanorobots, every class has a visit from a nanoexpert, who answers any questions the students have about their career path and helps solve problems and give feedback for the machines. Some of the nanoexperts are also ICMAB Researchers, who have told us what they think about the project:
Anna Laromaine, from the Nanoparticles & Nanocomposites (NN) Group, believes its crucial to cultivate an interest in science from an early age:
“I strongly believe teaching our young ones that they can get close to the research in any field is crucial for our society. I think that going to schools to explain our work in the school environment shows that we care for the students, the young ones and their future is important for us, and we take them into account. It might take some time but it is always rewarding and seeing their enthusiastic faces is extraordinary.”
Judit Morlà, from the Molecular Nanoscience and Organic Materials (NANOMOL) Group, was impressed by the ideas the kids came up with:
“The Nanoinventum project is special, not only due to the age of the students (who are in primary school), also because their implication and motivation is outstanding. One of the key reasons that motivated me to join this iniciative is the fact the students have to come up with the nanorobots, and I saw nanoscience through their eyes for the first time. It’s interesting, realizing the potential of imagination when it’s not clouded, but also the fact that their proposals were so grounded they will probably become reality in a few years. […] In my opinion, Nanoinventum is a very complete project, thanks both to the training given to the kids as well as my growth as a researcher, and the dose of positivity I received from these young scientists who are eager to change the world.”
Andrea Stephany, from the Nanoparticles & Nanocomposites (NN) Group, joined Nanoinventum after giving a talk at a middle school for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an experience she thoroughly enjoyed:
“Nanoinventum gave me the chance to share some insights about the fascinating Nanoworld with kids again. The kids in the school I will be going to are working on sustainability projects. Each of the groups sent me a letter explaining what their projects are about (which I have to say are very creative) and asking me questions about both how I could help their project come true and about my job. I will be going to the school next week to talk about my research at ICMAB and help them build their scientific projects.
I truly hope that, thanks to initiatives like this, young kids awaken their passion for science.”
Some of the prototypes done by the students at the Escola Voramar, Barcelona