Penn to host first 'NanoDay'  

Small technology is big this October. It’s been designated as Nano Month, and a host of activities has been designed to get the Penn community and Philadelphia audiences excited about, well, the small stuff. That is, the small stuff known as nanotechnology—technological advances on a nanoscale (or molecular level) that have the potential to change the way in which we do business, how we care for people in the medical fields and how we use technology.

Penn is helping to lead the way in this nanotechnology era. At the new Nano/Bio Interface Center, researchers from the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Medicine study the intersection of technology and biology at the nanoscale. Those who want a taste of this exciting technology can join researchers on Oct. 26, beginning at 9 a.m., for NanoDay@Penn 2005, a day of exhibits, demonstrations, laboratory tours and a talk by renowned Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Horst Stormer. James McGonigle, programs coordinator at the Nano/Bio Center, says the day is an open house for everyone in the University community and beyond “to let people know what kind of research is being conducted and how Penn is involved.”

McGonigle has extended the invite to area high school science teachers involved in the Center’s “Research Experience for Teachers” program—a five-week session that introduces the concepts of nanotechnology to science educators, who then take those ideas back to their classes.

On Oct. 26, Nano/Bio graduate students will present exhibits and demonstrations of their work, and top prizewinners at the Delaware Valley Regional Science Fair will exhibit their research. About 200 to 250 area high school students will also get a chance to see the Center’s atomic force microscope, which allows researchers to look at the physical structure (or “topography,” as McGonigle puts it) of molecules.

Broadly, researchers at the Nano/Bio Interface Center are focused on biomolecular function and molecular motion. They are learning “how [we can] visualize these molecules to develop new devices to allow researchers to see or affect some sort of change at the molecular level,” says McGonigle. Connected to all of this, McGonigle adds, is a discussion about the ethics of an interface of physical and chemical systems with the biological.

McGonigle says NanoDay@Penn fits in with his role at the Center—to connect the public to exciting research and to enhance science education at the pre-college level. “[This technology] has great capabilities. Kids need to know about it,” says McGonigle, a former biology teacher. “We need to strengthen science education in this country and increase the numbers of students pursuing science and technology. … This is an opportunity to help improve that.”

Also on deck this Nano Month is a Science Café lecture devoted to the topic at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 24. At this talk—part of the science lecture series where researchers speak in plain language— Associate Professor of Physics A.T. Charlie Johnson will talk about “A Big Future for Tiny Things: Dawn of the Nano Era.”

For a complete schedule of events for NanoDay@Penn 2005, go to the Nano/Bio Interface Center’s web site at www.nanotech.upenn.edu.

For more information on the Science Café, visit the Research@Penn web site at www.upenn.edu/researchatpenn and click on “Science Café.”


Originally published on October 6, 2005