Whoever would have thought a science juggling act could be so much fun? Or so informative? Yet a couple of weeks back I found myself grinning like a ten year-old as I sat reviewing a new set of nanotech DVDs. The culprit: “The Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show;” one of the highlights of Talking Nano-a just-released set of six professionally produced educational DVDs on nanotechnology from the Nanoscale Informal Science and Engineering (NISE) Network.
Talking Nano attempts to bring the mysteries of nanotechnology to the masses. And it does this pretty well… Each of the six DVDs is aimed at a different audience; some will appeal to younger children, while others provide meat for older and more sophisticated viewers. Taken together, the set provides a comprehensive and valuable resource-whether introducing kids to nanotechnology, walking people through the great potential and real challenges of this emerging area, or providing a more in-depth background on nanotech for decision-makers.
The DVD set opens with an accessible introduction to nanotechnology from Boston Museum of Science educator Tim Miller. Filmed as a presentation at the Museum of Science, the content is aimed fair and square at young kids with an interest in science and technology. This would make a great teaching resource for middle school kids, and an even better one for adults who still feel like middle schoolers when it comes to nanotech. It isn’t Mythbusters, but considering the slightly smaller production budget available to the Boston Science Museum, it does what it sets out to do well.
Dig further into the box of DVDs and you reach “Guiding Light With Nanowires;” an illuminating lecture from Harvard physicist Eric Mazur on using fibre optics and optical nanowires to direct the flow of light. Eric does a competent job of describing how and why light can be transmitted down fibres and wires, moving from the macroscale of swimming pools to the nanoscale of some of the thinnest and most unusual fibre optics around. And the case is well made for the importance of being able to transmit information using light rather than electricity is-especially at the nanoscale. This DVD is pitched at a higher level than Miller’s introduction, and will appeal most to older children and adults. Recommended as a good introduction to manipulating light at the nanoscale for anyone with an interest in the field.
Following Mazur there is a change of pace, with Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies director David Rejeski talking about nanotechnology, consumer products and public perceptions. This DVD is billed as being suitable for high schoolers and up, and I have to agree. While the content is informative, it delves reasonably deeply into where nanotech is turning up and what the social and policy implications are. A great resource for stimulating discussions on nanotechnology and society in high schools and college classes. I would also count this DVD a must-have resource for anyone seriously interested in the interface between nanotechnology and everyday people.
There follows the longest DVD in the set-50 minutes of George Whitesides from Harvard University providing his own personal and inimitable perspective on nanotechnology. This is a little dry in places, and probably more palatable to a relatively mature audience (although anyone from senior high upward should be able to handle it). But the chance to listen to one of the leading thinkers in nanotechnology talking about the history and future of this area-from the science to the social implications-is not to be missed. Highly recommended for anyone (nano-novice or nano-expert) interested in a big-picture perspective on the science and technology of working at the nanoscale.
The final disk in the set is the aforementioned “Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show.” To be honest, I was cringing when I put this in the DVD player-remember those “educational” shows you saw as a kid that were supposed to be funny, but were just plain embarrassing? This is what I was expecting, and for the first minute or so, this is what I thought I was getting. But all credit to jugglers Dan and Joel (and some savvy behind-the-scenes producers), the show actually works! This is a class-act that actually manages to convey something useful about nanotechnology. Without giving too much away, my guess is that most people between 8 and 80 would find it hard to get more fun out of nanotechnology than this 40 minute DVD provides.
At this point, you may be wondering when I lost my ability to count-having compressed a review of six DVDs into five brief paragraphs. The reason for the discrepancy is that I have saved my favourite disk ’till last.
The second disk in the set is surely the highlight in an already great product, and features IBM’s Don Eigler talking about his work on single atom imaging and manipulation.
For those not in the know, Don has been at the cutting edge of single atom manipulation since the late 1980’s, and is responsible for some of the most stunning images to come from a scanning probe microscope.
This DVD is something special. Don’s delivery is unassuming, accessible and engaging, and I suspect it will appeal to nano novices and established nano hacks alike. Filmed in front of a live audience, Eigler elegantly takes the audience through the basics of scanning probe microscopy, and explains what the technique shows and what it can do. And at the end of the 24-minute DVD comes a Eureka moment: Done with talking about what the science can do, Don demonstrates it by picking up and moving single atoms in real time, in front of the live audience. And not content with this, he proceeds to let audience members loose on the equipment (which is linked by internet to his lab back on the West Coast).
Watching this and seeing the audience reaction, you can’t help thinking “wow-so that’s what nano is all about!”
All in all, Talking Nano has something for everyone. Not all the DVDs will appeal to all audiences, but there are some gems here that make the set worthwhile. A great resource for teaching adults and kids alike about nanotech, bringing decision-makers up to speed on some of the finer points of the emerging technology, and pretending for a few minutes you are a wide-eyed child again!