Materials World Modules

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

Nanoscale Drug Delivery Module

Through the following activities, students learn how nanotechnology is revolutionizing the approach to drug delivery and medical diagnostics. They are engaged in a simulated, as well as actual synthesis of alginate nanoparticles. Each activity prepares students for the Design Project, in which they are challenged to design a prototype nanomedicine with an optimum time-release profile.

The math extension covers a host of topics, all linked in some way to principles or subject matter in the activities and design projects. The problems start out with the concept of the LD50, a major measure of toxicity. From here, we look at the process of targeting disease-mimicking cells by injecting a drug-like compound into the bloodstream of a mouse via the tail. Hot peppers are major topics in the fourth activity and have inspired four sections of math problems here. The last segment reviews a fundamental attribute of small particles - its surface properties.

Is it possible that surface area to volume ratio applies in the animal world at both very small and very large extremes?

Module At-a-Glance

Module At-a-Glance

Activity 1: Designing Nanomedicine
Students are introduced to four different classes of nanomedicine for cancer treatment through playing an interactive Nanobomber simulation game. After the initial missions, they are challenged to design the appropriate nanomedicine to combat cancer cells in a patient without harming the healthy cells.

Activity 2: Hunting for Nanoparticle Drug Delivery Systems

Students conduct an Internet search to identify six currently used drug delivery methods: topical, oral, injection, transdermal, and toxin removal targeted systems. They research ways in which nanotechnology can be used to improve each delivery method.

Activity 3: Making Biodegradable Alginate Beads
Students make biodegradable alginate polymer beads by reacting drops of sodium alginate in calcium chloride solution. Students explore how varying concentrations of the two reactants, surfactants, and oil affect the size of the beads.

Activity 4: Determining the Rate of "Drug" Release
Students load a red dye as the “drug” into alginate beads made earlier to conduct drug release studies. They measure red dye concentration as a function of time to determine the kinetics of “drug” release, as well as the effects of particle size on the release profile.

Pre-Design Activity: Interactive Mathematical Modeling

As a precursor to the design project, students use the mathematical modeling tool to make predictions of the overall time-release rate for a a multiparticle system consisting of a combination of beads that differ in number and size.

Design Project: Designing a Time-Release Nanomedicine
Students construct a set of prototype time-released drug delivery systems in the form of alginate beads. The beads are embedded with a red dye as the “drug,” which is released into sodium citrate solution. To meet specific time-release profile, students make a number of choices regarding the design of their prototypes. Students test and evaluate their prototypes and then redesign the prototypes to make them more effective.

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.


  • Structure and Properties of Matter
  • Biochemical Reactions
  • Mixing
  • Polymer Cross-linking
  • Emulsion
  • Sieve Separation
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Particle Dissolution
  • Le Chatelier's Principle of Chemical Equilibrium

Physics & Physical Science

  • Properties of Matter
  • Physical and Chemical Changes
  • Diffusion
  • Particle Porosity


  • Measuring
  • Graphing
    • Making and Reading Graphs
    • Interpreting Graphs
  • Computing
    • Averages
    • Rates

Biology and Life Science

  • Cancer
  • Pharmaceutical Drugs
  • Absorption and Diffusion Rates
  • Classes of Nanomedicine
  • Technology in Medicine
  • Medical Treatment of Diseases

Technical Education

  • Designing
  • Building Prototypes
  • Communications
  • Optimization
  • Iterative Design
  • Internet Research

@ Materials World Modules