Materials World Modules

An Inquiry & Design-Based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Program

Nanopatterning Module

Students will learn how to visualize and fabricate patterns at the micro and nanoscales. The will see examples of these patterns and learn about their applications. When they complete the Activities, they will be ready for the Design Project in which they will fabricate, test, and evaluate a prototype pixel array.
By incorporating everyday materials into science lessons, the Materials World Modules (MWM) program at Northwestern University has found the solution to getting students excited about learning science while helping teachers meet national and state education standards.

The modules are easy to organize and inexpensive to run. They can be incorporated into any science class because of the breadth of subjects covered in the Activity and Design Project sections. Each module is a supplemental science unit that takes 1-3 weeks of class time (approximately 10 hours) to complete.

Module At-a-Glance

Module At-a-Glance

Activity 1: Packing and Patterns
One of the more common forms of self-assembly is the aggregation of near-uniform particles into close-packed patterns. By examining macroscale examples of how uniform groups of objects pack together, students will be able to visualize the packing that occurs in nanoscale systems.

Activity 2: Searching for Nanopatterns

Students will do independent web research on natural and man-made nanopatterns. They will encounter the two main methods for making patterns, top-down and bottom-up, and explore the applications of both approaches.

Activity 3: Diffraction Patterns
Diffraction patterns are one means of visualizing patterns of structures that are too small to see directly. By analyzing how light scatters off the structures, patterns with a length scale near the wavelength of light can be discerned

Activity 4: Patterns and Scaling
Students will make their own ‘master’ patterns using Shrinky Dink plastic. After designing creative two-dimensional patterns, students must use appropriate scaling to create a diffraction grating pattern of a particular size. Finally, they will make molds of the patterns and of a CD grating to use in the next activity.

Activity 5: Double Replica Molding

Students use the molds they made in Activity 4 to make replicas of their original patterns on flexible substrates. By molding both sides of the substrate students can create patterns with more complex diffraction patterns.

Design Project: Prototype OLED Array

Based on the techniques they learned in the Activities, students will design and then fabricate a prototype of a pixel array on a flexible substrate. They will also develop evaluation criteria and perform tests on their prototypes,
the results of which will be presented in class.

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Materials World Modules are simple to organize and inexpensive to run. They are designed to be easily incorporated into any middle school science or high school science lab or lecture course. The chart below lists the subjects covered in the Activities and Design Projects sections of this module.

Physics & Physical Science

  • Capillary Forces
  • Forces and Self-Assembly
  • Surface Energy
  • Diffraction, Interference, and Iridescence
  • Diffraction Patterns

Earth and Space Science

  • Self-Assembly
  • Opals
  • Crystallography


  • Self-Assembly
  • Intermolecular Forces
  • Hydrophobicity/philicity
  • Crystallography
  • Polymers


  • Packing Patterns
  • Tiling, Tesselations
  • Ratios, Angles
  • Reciprocal space, Transforms
  • Symmetry
  • Scaling
  • Inverse

Biology and Life Science

  • Self-Assembly
  • Cell Membrane, Lipid Bilayers
  • Natural Nanopatterns
  • Biomineralization
  • X-ray Diffraction of DNA
  • Microfluidics and sensors

Engineering and Technology

  • Fabrication
  • Molding and templates
  • Scaling



@ Materials World Modules