What can students do with Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, tape, laser pointers, microscope slides, and ring stands? How about make a working model of an atomic force microscope (AFM)?
That’s what a class of 18 students did during the 2003 summer session while they field-tested the Nanotechnology Module. The Modern Physics Honors class, which was run through Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, was taught by Naperville North High School (Naperville, IL) physics teacher Kevin Farrell. He took the last three days of the 3-week summer class to conduct the module with his students.
“They really enjoyed the hands-on part” of the module, said Kevin. He was also pleased that his high-achieving students were able to exercise their graphing and math skills, as well, with their model AFMs which, like real AFMs, were used to amplify and map out the surface topography of various objects. The activities that preceded the AFM design projects helped prepare students by, for instance, allowing students to experiment with laser beam deflection and amplification of height from the millimeter scale to the centimeter or decimeter scale.
During their testing and subsequent oral presentations and demonstrations of their projects, some students were able to use their model AFMs to amplify and graph small details on coins--even the contours of Thomas Jefferson’s profile on a nickel! Such a project is a good macroscale model for real-life AFM instruments used in materials research, which allow scientists to “see” objects that are on the nanometer scale (one-billionth of a meter).