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UCLA’s CEIN and CNSI celebrate National Nanotechnology Day

Raising awareness of nanotechnology through demonstrations, tours, and talks

Meghan Steele Horan | October 17, 2017

October 9th marks National Nanotechnology Day, a day where schools, labs, and organizations plan events and activities to help raise awareness of nanotechnology.

Members from the UC Center for Environmental Implications and California NanoSystems Institute perform hands-on nanotechnology demonstrations for event-goers at the Santa Monica Public Library for National Nanotechnology Day. Photo Credit: CNSI

October 9th marks National Nanotechnology Day, a day where schools, labs, and organizations plan events and activities to help raise awareness of nanotechnology. This year, the UC Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology and the California NanoSystems Institute celebrated National Nanotechnology Day through a series of events for the general public, local high schools in the Los Angeles community, and students on the UCLA campus.

But first, what is National Nanotechnology Day?

The annual event, led by the United States National Nanotechnology Initiative, features a series of community-led events and activities across the country on or around October 9th educating the public on what nanotechnology is, how it is currently used in everyday products, and how it affects people’s daily lives.

So what is the significance of October 9th?

One nanometer is one billionth of a meter. This is depicted as 10-9 (read as 10 to the negative 9) to show 0.000000001. October 9th pays homage to the nanometer scale, 10-9 meters.

UC CEIN and the Santa Monica Public Library Present “Nanotechnology and You”

“Is this where the nanotechnology demonstrations and talks will be?” asked a woman who was keen to join members of the UC CEIN and CNSI as they were setting up at the Santa Monica Public Library.

“Yes it is,” said Meghan Horan, UC CEIN Education and Outreach Manager. “You’re a little early. We’ll be starting shortly!”

As the doors opened at the start of the event, a crowd of adults and children flooded the room and headed towards the nanotechnology demonstrations. Four graduate students from CNSI greeted curious participants as they came down the line, educating them on various nanotechnology topics including Tyndall scattering and superhydrophobic surfaces.

Members from UC CEIN helped to explain why it is very important to have the right size tools to work at the nanoscale by having attendees build a structure with Legos using cumbersome oven mitts while timing how long it took. After building with oven mitts, participants then reassembled the structure using their fingers.

“You created the structure much faster and more efficiently with your fingers,” said Horan to two siblings who were competing against each other. “You just proved that your fingers are the right sized tool than the oven mitts when building with Legos. When working at the nanoscale, we also need to use the appropriate sized tool.”

After the demonstrations, three UC CEIN researchers participated in a panel, answering general science and nanotechnology questions from the audience such as “I heard a hexagon is the strongest nanostructure, why is that?” asked by a young girl sporting a Marie Curie shirt.

“Events like the one that was held at the Santa Monica Public Library are critical because they help to build not only basic scientific literacy but also enthusiasm for science itself,” said Hilary Godwin, Education Director and Co-Principal Investigator of the UC CEIN who was involved in the panel. “One of my favorite parts is seeing young kids (and their parents and grandparents) get excited about science through hands-on activities. It is also a great opportunity to build dialog about scientific topics that people care about deeply such as ‘how can science help to make the world a better place for our children?’”

CNSI National Nanotechnology Day

Late Monday morning, the CNSI auditorium filled up with graduate students and high schoolers eager to learn more about innovation and careers in entrepreneurship through a panel co-hosted by the UCLA Graduate Division. At the front of the room were four entrepreneurs, three of which were from companies in the Incubator at CNSI who shared their experiences from being in the laboratory and classrooms to bringing a product to market.

When asked what other skills besides research skills helped him become an entrepreneur, panelist Keith Gibson, Assistant Director of Startup UCLA and Blackstone Launchpad, discussed the warm intro – utilizing an existing relationship to connect with people that they know that you are interested in forming a business relationship with.

Panelist Janet Hur, CEO and Treasurer of Millibatt – a company that makes small and rechargeable batteries – shared her experiences with rejections from investors and how it’s important to continue moving forward.

“In the beginning, rejections were a fearful experience,” said Hur. “That is just the nature of business.”

Following the entrepreneurship panel, a series of Nano Talks were held by CNSI directors and faculty members on how nanotechnology is being used in areas ranging from microbiology, supercapacitors, and cancer.

“How many of you in the audience have taken antibiotics?” asked Jeff Miller, Director of CNSI.

Almost everyone in the room raised their hands. Miller then shared a story about a woman with an infection that was resistant to every available antibiotic and discussed current efforts to find the solutions to the antibiotic resistance crisis.

“A potential solution is precision antibiotics,” said Miller. “The idea is that we can make an antibiotic that only kills specific pathogens, including those that are resistant to current drugs.”

Precision antibiotics would limit selective pressures that promote the spread of resistance genes.
After the Nano Talks Session, the day ended with a quarterly mixer co-hosted by UCLA Design Media Arts for North Campus, mainly art students, and South Campus students who are mostly in STEM. Students also enjoyed touring the CNSI technology Centers throughout the building.

“National Nanotechnology Day is a way for us to inform and educate the UCLA campus and the local community about what it is that we do here at CNSI,” said Rita Blaik, CNSI Education Manager. “We’re already looking forward to planning ahead for next year’s National Nanotechnology Day.”

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CNSI creates multidisciplinary education and training opportunities that supplement and enhance traditional degree programs and classroom curricula to prepare a new generation of science leaders who will apply science to emerging global challenges. For nearly a decade, CNSI has collaborated with a dedicated group of UCLA researchers to create academic courses, workshops, professional development and training opportunities that engage the educators of today and students who will become the scientists of tomorrow.