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Exploring at the Nanoscale

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Lesson Focus 
Lesson focuses on how nanotechnology has impacted our society and how engineers have learned to explore the world at the nanoscale. Students participate in hands-on activities to understand exactly how small the nanoscale is, explore how surface area changes at the nano scale, and work in teams to develop futuristic applications of nanotechnology.
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Lesson Synopsis 
The "Exploring at the Nanoscale" lesson explores how nanotechnology has impacted the world, and how engineers have to consider the ramifications of working at a very small scale. Students work in teams and explore the increased surface area exposed as items are made smaller and smaller. Students examine and measure large blocks of tofu or gelatin, determining the surface area. Then they slice the block into smaller and smaller pieces, exposing more surfaces, and impacting the surface area. Students also explore the size of small, comparing various items to understand how large a nano is. They work as an engineering team to determine a new application of nanotechnology for a product or process of their choice. Teams present concepts and proposals to a group of potential research funders (the rest of the class) and each then vote for the proposal with the most potential. Student teams complete reflection documents.

Age Levels:


  • Learn about nanotechnology.
  • Learn about scale.
  • Learn about surface area.
  • Learn about engineering design.
  • Learn about teamwork and working in groups.
Anticipated Learner Outcomes 

As a result of this activity, students should develop an understanding of:

  • nanotechnology
  • problem solving
  • teamwork

Lesson Activities

Students learn how engineers working at the nanoscale have a greater surface area to work with. Students work in teams to explore increasing surface area as large blocks are cut to multiple, smaller parts. They then explore a challenge of determining how nanotechnology might help engineers improve a product or a process, and present their proposal to the class.


  • Teacher Resource Documents (attached)
  • Student Worksheets (attached)
  • Student Resource Sheets (attached)

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks

Curriculum alignment sheet is included in PDF.

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