The University of Alabama

UA Partners with Tuskegee in Developing Nanoscience Curriculum for Black Belt Middle-Schoolers

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Faculty and staff from The University of Alabama will test nanoscience modules with middle-school teachers from the Black Belt Friday at the McWane Center in Birmingham.

UA is subcontracted by Tuskegee University to develop new nano modules to help spark student achievement and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. In September, the National Science Foundation awarded Tuskegee nearly $16 million in grants for various projects.

One grant, valued at $9.9 million, will fund the development of a science education partnership with schools in the Black Belt region, a string of more than 16 counties in the lower half of the state.

Dr. Shanlin Pan, professor of chemistry; Dr. Karen Boykin, assistant director at the Environmental Institute for Sustainable Water, Air, and Land Resources at UA; and Dr. Dee Goldston, professor of science education, will present a nanotechnology module that shows students how titanium oxide – used to coat windows – self-cleans when it reacts with ultra-violet light. While such a demonstration may seem advanced for children in grades sixth through eighth, Goldston said the module is exactly what some science curriculum and students are missing — relevancy.

“We’re trying to bridge a big gap,” said Goldston. “Our science education curriculum needs to catch up with the times. One place to do it is in the middle grades, where students start to lose interest in math and science. They need to feel like what they’re learning is relevant in everyday life. Students that get hooked on this can become our next scientists.”

Goldston said the concept of creating modules for teaching nanobioscience and nanotechnology for inclusion in school curriculum isn’t uncommon, though it’s rare in regions like the Black Belt region, which have more rural school districts and lower income families.

“We’re taking the modules to teachers and schools that have not been advantaged in terms of being first to use curriculum like this,” said Goldston. “ We want them to learn about, and think about, nanomaterials/particles and how they are, and could be, used – cancer research, cell phones, Ipods, to name a few. Using common tools like these connect nanotechnology and STEM research to a world students can relate to, so it is a powerful motivator.”

Considered a relatively new form of research, nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale, sometimes less than a billionth of one meter.

The federal government invested more than $1.5 billion in nanotechnology in 2009 through the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Dr. Dawen Li, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UA, and two graduate students are also working on the project.

The University of Alabama-Birmingham and Alabama State University have similar subcontracts with Tuskegee and will also present nano modules to the 60-plus teachers expected to attend Friday.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.