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Unique Models Help Teach Nanoscience to the Blind

s were small enough, this is what a surface would feel like at the nanoscale."

The pair is still perfecting the modeling method, which employs an engineering tool called rapid prototyping. But eventually, Greenberg plans to test whether the models help blind students grasp nanoscience concepts, especially the complex ways in which data are collected to produce 2-D images of nanoscale surfaces.

He also wonders whether 3-D models might help sighted students - or the public, for that matter - also appreciate the nanoscale. "A two-dimensional image is great," he says. "But if you can touch something - everyone enjoys that." Greenberg first conceived of the models during a visit to the Indiana School for the Blind, where a colleague showed him 3-D models of molecules that blind students handled to learn chemical structures. Soon afterward, he contacted Farhoud, master of the rapid prototyping printer in the UW's Biology New Media Center. To help professors convey difficult concepts in the classroom, Farhoud routinely builds 3-D models from computer-generated images of tiny things, including molecules and cellular structures.

NanoBucky, though, was on a scale all his own. Starting with a 2-D, grey-scale picture of the nano-mascot taken with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Farhoud first reversed the image, making the blacks appear white and vice versa. Next, he used the various shades of grey in the image to confer heights on the carbon nanofibers: the blackest black was assigned a maximum height, white got a value of zero, and the computing program MATLAB calculated all the values in between.

Farhoud then sent these newly acquired 3-D data into the rapid prototyper, which lays down plaster layer-by-layer to "print" 3-D models.

Greenberg and Farhoud are confident they can construct models from data generated by other common tools of the nanotechnology trade, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM). In fact,
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