Materials World Modules

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

Nanotechnology Module

Students discover that physical and chemical properties of materials can depend on their size, investigate how nanoparticles can be made, and determine how to amplify small features at the nano scale to the macroscopic scale. They are then challenged to design a working model of a nanoscale imaging apparatus or model a nanoscience phenomenon.

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: Changing the Properties of Materials by Changing Their Size
The purpose of this activity is for students to discover that the physical and chemical properties of materials can depend on their size. In Part A students examine how the catalytic activity of manganese dioxide (MnO2) can be increased by reducing the size of the MnO2 particles. In Part B students use a colloid consisting of nanometer-sized gold particles to examine how the size of the gold particles in the colloid solution can be modulated and how this affects the optical properties (color) of the colloid. This color change is due to a physical change of the substance, not a chemical change.

Activity 2: Searching for Nanoscale Objects
To give students an idea of the different technological developments that are in existence in the “nanoworld,” they are asked to choose a nanoscale object from a list of examples and research its properties and current and future uses. Students then present their findings in a variety of ways, such as a poster, PowerPoint presentation, paper, or class discussion.

Activity 3: Nanopatterning with Lithography
How can nanosized particles be made? In this activity, students investigate the concepts of lithographic patterning and serial vs. parallel fabrication. They model nanolithography by creating patterns of spheres in a frame template (similar to billiard balls in a rack) and sprinkling glitter (simulating silver atoms) through the interstices. When the mask is removed, individual silver“nanoparticles” are revealed.

Activity 4: Amplifying the Nanoscale to the Macroscale
In this activity students determine how to amplify the atomic scale to the macroscopic scale, a key feature of the atomic force microscope. They also learn about calibration and create a calibration curve by moving a cantilever on the millimeter scale and measuring its movement in the centimeter or decimeter scale.

Design Project 1: Designing a Nanoscale Imaging Apparatus
Students are challenged to build a nanometer-scale imaging apparatus using what they have learned in the previous activities.

Design Project 2: Modeling a Nanoscience Application
Students are challenged to research and model a nanoscience application. For example, they could do their project on something they found during their Internet search (Activity 2) or something else entirely.

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Materials World Modules 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 Activity and Design Project sections of this module.

Physics & Physical Science

  • Colors and Light
  • Capillary Forces
  • Diffraction
  • Electrostatics
  • Using Mass to Determine Spring Constant

Geology & Earth Science

  • Ethics and Impact of Uses of Nanotechnology

Language Arts

  • Public speaking
  • Word Derivations
  • Writing a Scientific Paper


  • Attractive Forces
  • Catalysts
  • Colors and Light
  • Electrolyte Solutions
  • Rates of Reactions
  • Redox Reactions
  • Solutions, Colloids, and Suspensions
  • Physical and Chemical Properties
  • Atom Arrangements in Solids
  • Atomic Packing
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • IR Spectroscopy
  • Surface Structure
  • Vibration of Molecules

Biology and Life Science

  • Capillary Forces
  • Hydrophilic/Hydrophobic Reactions
  • Microscopy Techniques


  • Orders of Magnitude
  • Calculating Surface-to-Volume Ratios
  • Geometry of Close-packed Structures
  • Calibration Plots
  • Metric System
  • Spring-constant Calculations

Standards Alignment

Standards Alignment (page 1)  >>  Standards Alignment (page 2)

AAAS Benchmark Standards


NSES Standards

NCTM Standards

Grades 9-12

Module Alignment

Grades 9-12

Module Alignment

Grades 9-12
Module Alignment

1. Nature of Science


A. Science as Inquiry

Numbers & Operations

The Scientific worldview

Ability to do scientific inquiry

Understanding number relations

Scientific inquiry

Understanding scientific inquiry

Understand meanings of operations

The Scientific enterprise

B. Physical Science


Compute fluently and estimate
2. Nature of Mathematics  

Structure of atoms



Patterns and relationships

Structure and properties of matter

Understand patterns, relations and functions

Mathematics, science, and technology

Chemical reactions

Analyze math situations using algebraic symbols

Mathematical Inquiry

Motions and forces

Use mathematical models to understand quantitative relationships

3. Nature of Technology


Conservation of energy and increase in disorder

Analyze change in various contexts

Technology and science

Interactions of energy and matter



Design and systems

C. Life Sciences


Analyze characteristics and properties of two- and three-dimensional geometric shapes

Issues in technology

The cell

Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry

4. The Physical Setting


E. Science and Technology


Apply transformations and use symmetry

Structure of matter

Ability of technological design

Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling

Energy transformations

Understanding science and technology





Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements.

Force of nature



Analysis and Probability


8. The Designed World


Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect and display relevant data to answer them

Materials and manufacturing



Select and use appropriate statistical methods to analyze data

9. The Mathematical World


Problem Solving





Process standard I

Symbolic relationships





Process standard III





11. Common Themes

Process standard IV







Process standard V

Constancy and change





Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) have valuable information concerning substances used in this MWM kit.

Hydrogen Tetrachloroaurate III

Sodium Citrate Dihydrate

@ Materials World Modules