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Unique Models Help Teach Nanoscience to the Blind

At the root of scientific study are observations made with the eyes; yet in nanoscience, our eyes fail// us.

The smallest object we can see still looms thousands of times larger than a typical nano-sized structure. Even the most powerful microscopes can't peer into the nanoscale directly.

That's why nanoscale experiments offer such great opportunities to teach blind and visually impaired students about science and pique their interest in the field, says Andrew Greenberg, education and outreach coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) and the Institute for Chemical Education.

"The fact is, we're all blind at the nanoscale," he says. "So the message to blind students is, 'This is something you can do, this is a field you can enter. You have the ability to understand what's going on at the nanoscale just as much as anyone else.'"

To give blind students a feel - literally - for nanoscience and technology, Greenberg and Mohammed Farhoud, a senior biochemistry student working with UW-Madison Center for Biology Education (CBE) Director Dave Evans, are building three-dimensional models of nano-surfaces that are large enough to be explored with the hands. Their first attempt replicates "NanoBucky," a nanoscale version of the UW-Madison mascot, Bucky Badger, made entirely from tiny carbon nanofiber "hairs."

Created by UW-Madison chemistry professor Bob Hamers to demonstrate a method for controlling the growth of nanomaterials, the original NanoBucky is so tiny that approximately 9,000 of him can fit on the head of the pin. Though Greenberg and Farhoud's plaster 3-D models are several inches long and tens of thousands of times larger, they aim to faithfully reproduce every last nanofiber of Bucky's being.

"We want to get across that NanoBucky is made up of individual carbon nanofibers standing on end," says Greenberg. "If the students' finger
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