NanoDays 2015 – Fascinating activities at the Science Museum this Saturday

NanoDays is held during a designated week each Spring, and consists of locally based educational events and activities focusing on nanoscale science and engineering. The NanoDays Kickoff at the Science Museum of Western Virginia this Saturday is part of a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering. This festival is organized by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network and takes place nationally from March 28-April 5, 2015. In honor of the close of the festival, our Storybook Science program on April 4 will be about nanoscience and will include a few activities to introduce your pre-schooler to the smallest science.

What is Nanoscience?

Nanoscience is an emerging field in which scientists study and research the novel properties and behaviors of systems operating at the nanoscale. The prefix “nano” means one billionth. A nanometer is very, very small – there are one billion nanometers in a meter. If you’d like to learn more about nanoscience, we will be presenting “What is Nano,” in our planetarium at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning (March 28). This program is included with admission to the Science Museum. Seating will be on a first come/first served basis, so please listen for the announcement.

Butterfly Wings and Gecko Toes – An article from NISE (Nanoscale Informal Science Education) Network

A close examination of the natural world has revealed examples of how conditions at the nanoscale affect what happens at the human scale.

morphoTake, for example, the blue morpho butterfly. This butterfly’s wings are a beautiful, shimmering blue, a color so bright that naturalists have reported seeing the flash of blue wings from a quarter of a mile away. You might think that such a vibrant color comes from blue pigment; but there is no blue pigment in the butterfly’s wings. In fact, microscopic studies have shown that the butterfly’s wing is covered with tightly packed rows of clear scales.


These clear scales form layers that reflect blue light. Each layer is 62 nanometers thick and the layers are 207 nanometers apart. This spacing is exactly what’s needed to reflect that shimmering blue light. Spacing of other distances will reflect light of other colors. The interaction of light with these nanoscale structures creates the brilliant blue color of the butterfly’s wings.

Another natural example of how very small structures have very big effects can be found on the feet of geckos, lizards noted for their ability to run across walls and ceilings, sticking effortlessly to the slickest surface. On the bottom of each gecko foot are half a million microscopic hairs, each about one‐tenth the diameter of a human hair. The end of each hair splits into hundreds of even tinier hairs, measuring just 200 nanometers across.  When a gecko presses its foot down, these tiny hairs unfurl, pressing very closely against the surface.

When atoms or molecules are brought very close together, they are weakly attracted to each other. The attractive forces, known as van der Waals forces, operate at the nanoscale so we don’t usually notice them. But these forces, multiplied by the millions of hairs on the gecko’s feet, hold the lizard to the ceiling quite securely.Micro_and_nano_view_of_gecko's_toe

The nanoscale characteristics of butterfly wings and gecko toes have inspired researchers to contemplate commercial products that make use of the same principles. Researchers at the Univeristy of Manchester’s Centre for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology in the United Kingdom have developed what they call “gecko tape,” a supersticky reattachable dry adhesive that uses synthetic hairs mimicking those on the gecko’s feet. Researchers at cosmetic manufacturer L’Oréal are working to produce cosmetics that reflect brilliantly colored light like the blue morpho butterfly’s wings.

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