Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Visual Approach to Nanotechnology Education

A hypothetical nano sorting machine.
The International Journal of Engineering Education published our paper "A Visual Approach to Nanotechnology Education." The paper presents a systematic approach based on scientific visualization to teaching and learning concepts in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Five types of mathematical models are used to generate visual, interactive simulations that provide a powerful software environment for experiential learning through virtual experimentation. These five types, which are implemented in the Molecular Workbench software, are:
  • All-atom molecular dynamics
  • Coarse-grained molecular dynamics
  • Gay-Berne molecular dynamics
  • Soft-body biomolecular dynamics
  • Quantum dynamics (including real space and imaginary space)
The nanotechnology content areas covered by this approach are discussed. These areas include notoriously difficult subjects such as statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics.

A Gay-Berne model of molecular self-assembly.
A variety of instructional strategies for effective use of these simulations are discussed. These inquiry-based strategies cover use in lecture, student-centered exploration, and student model construction.

Preliminary results from a pilot study at the college level, which was conducted by Dr. Hee-Sun Lee at Department of Physics, University of California Santa Cruz, demonstrated the potential of this approach for improving nanotechnology learning.