Kristin: The very last session at COMS2009 is on the theme of education. There are some common global issues. Firstly there will be an anticipated shortage of scientists and engineers. Second, there are conflicting views on how to develop nanotechnologists.
1. Nanotechnology should be taught at all levels
Assoc Prof Aldrin Sweeney from the University of Central Florida and Editor of the Journal of Nano Education discussed some of the issues in nanoscale science and engineering education. One of the issues emerging is whether nantechnology can be taught at all levels. In 2003, Mihail Rocco said there was a need for education and training in nanoscience concepts to be introduced at all levels of education. And in Technology Foresight on Danish Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, The Steering Group recommended that nanotechnology should be taught in both primary school and secondary schools:
‘Compared with technical and scientific subjects in general, nanotechnology appeals strongly to young people. Early teaching of nanotechnology may thereby have the beneficial side effect of increasing the general interest in – and applications to study for – technical and scientific qualifications.’
2. Therefore, what fundamental concepts and competencies are needed within a nanotechnology curriculum?
There seems to be three cores areas required, at least at the tertiary level. First is the need to have a good understanding of physics, biology and chemistry, and to be able to understand the interdisciplinary nature of these sciences in nanotechnology. Second, studetns should learn some basic skills around instrumentation, microscopy and nanofabrication. Third, students should be aware of the political and cutural contexts of nanotechnology and associated research. Here, perhaps it is also important to impart skills in and what about the role of commercialisation – especially if you belive that researchers have an obligation to extedn there research into the marketplace.
3. Specialisation or generalisation?
Yes, that old chestnut. Do you teach basic courses in physics, chemistry and/or biology and then introduce interdisciplinarity (the T-model), or do you teach the inverted T – which introduces nanoscience as an interdisciplinary knowledge base and then focus on specialisations within this?
- Larrs Montelius from Oresund University (a collaborative association of Universities in Sweden and Denmark) presented on Nano Connect Scandinavia. Here there is acknowledgment that both a broad understanding and in-depth knowledge. He showed a range of approaches within Scandinavian universities.
- Nadine Hoser from Bamberg University and a Fulbright Scholar in California is looking at how people transition from education to the labour market. Interestingly, she showed that most employers would be prefer a science degree in a specific discipline followed by nanotechnology specialisation , rather than a first degree in nanotechnology. Her project will be looking at how nanoscientists and nanotechnologists define themselves (and the effect of the market and professional associations), as well as how nano breakthroughs have been diffusing into the labour market.
4. What are some ways that nanotechnology can be presented in education?
Finally, how can the needs at the tertiary level be translated for secondary schools?
- Gabriel Ramirez presented Class on a Chip, a MEMS Education chip (6.2 mm by 2.8 mm) containing 20-30 devices per chip. Helping to identify what these micro-electric systems components do and how they work. The chip can be connected through a driver board to a PC with a haptic controller which allows the students to play and touch and feel. Laboratory manuals currently in development with high school and college teachers to allow ensure students can get the most out of the device (Clive wants one).
- Francesca Calati from La Trobe University presented on AccessNano as a way of introducing nanotechnology in Australian schools. Francesca showed simple (and cost-effective) ways that this resource allows teachers to show how properties change at the nanoscale. And how provocative ideas can engage students in science.