To further the public understanding on nanotechnology, the University of Wisconsin, in coordination with various science museums nationwide, is focusing on creating interactive exhibits on this science.
Nanotechnology — the science of constructing various chemical compounds on the molecular level for practical and sometimes complex uses — can lead to, among other applications, breakthroughs in medicine and energy reduction.
Nanotech has already been applied to create things such as stain-resistant clothing and self-cleaning windows, and more uses are being explored every day.
Wendy Crone, UW associate professor of engineering physics and director of education and outreach for UW's Material Research Science and Engineering Center, said the center is helping make the public familiar with this work.
"It is very likely that nanotechnology will have a big impact in our lives in the next 10 to 20 years," Crone said.
Part of the MRSEC's initiative focuses on understandable and useful public education. UW faculty, staff and students are working closely with the Science Museum of Minnesota to create interactive nanotechnology exhibits to facilitate education and awareness of this field.
The exhibits target middle and high school students, but the information is important for everyone, Crone said. UW will help kids learn about technology more easily with the exhibits, but will also conduct conversations with adults about the societal implications of nanotechnology.
A number of science museums and UW will create exhibit prototypes and smaller components over the next few months. They will then refine the parts and develop the exhibit as a whole, continuously testing it with public audiences on campus and at local museums to ensure the intended viewers understand, Crone explained.
"UW is the only university group in the collection because of our experience over the last few years," Crone said, referring to UW's public nanotechnology exhibit made for the Engineering Centers Building in 2004. "We got a lot of information of what [the public] understood and we refined the exhibits."
The exhibit's goal is to increase societal awareness and understanding on a national level.
"By the end of the five years of the [Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network] grant, there will be completed exhibits collected in 100 museums throughout the country," Crone said.
Chemistry professor and co-director of part of MREC's research, Robert Hamers said nanotechnology is increasingly more important in our daily lives, with applications in medical development and energy reduction.
"There is potentially new therapeutic technology in cancer detection and in curing diseases," Hamers said. "Nanotechnology can improve delivery of medicine to specific locations in the body; now … there is no specific way of targeting locations."
Hamers added developments in the energy field are also important.
"Nano particles are more chemically reactive that their microscopic counterparts," Hamers said. "They can create chemical reactions at lower temperatures and in friendlier conditions, reducing energy."
Hamers said informing the public of nanotechnology and clarifying misconceptions helps people make informed decisions about the technology.
"Any technology can be misused," Hamers acknowledged. "Popular books prey on people's fears without addressing how nanotechnology benefits us."