Mrs. Norma L. Gentner is an Enrichment Teacher (K-5) at Heritage Heights Elementary, Sweet Home Central School District, Amherst, New York. Mrs. Gentner's team of fifth-grade students took second place in the Nationals as ExploraVision winners. I asked Mrs. Gentner to comment on her experiences in the nanotechnology field and about
The "Tumor-nator" was a Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision project done by eighth-grade students in Diamond Bar, California. Their teacher is Paul Boubion. The Tumor-nator targets malignant tumors in the body and repairs the P53 gene in the DNA of cancer cells. (Courtesy Paul Boubion)
the award-winning ExploraVision project, the Appy-Bot. The following includes her comments,
The Appy-Bot will eliminate the need for appendectomies in the future by using nanotechnology to repair a patient's appendix.
Normally, nanotechnology wouldn't be a science studied at the elementary school level, but the national science competition, ExploraVision provides a forum that challenges students and teachers to go beyond the classroom curriculum.
During the 2004-2005 school year, a team of three fifth graders wanted to create a future technology that would eliminate the need for appendectomies. The Pediatric Surgeon who performed an appendectomy on one of the team members came in and shared what was happening to the appendix before surgery. He also encouraged the team to do some research on nanobots. They went on-line and learned about nanobots and nanotechnology.
The next part of the design process took them to the University of Buffalo where they met with professors in Chemical and Biological Engineering. One professor felt that the team's initial concept for the Appy-Bot had too many functions for it to be nano-sized and encouraged them to create micromachines. The competition required them to look 20 years into the future,
Norma L. Gentner with her team of fifth grade students who were Second Place ExploraVision winners. Their nanotechnology project was called, The Appy-Bot, which eliminates the need for appendectomies in the future by using nanotechnology to repair a patient's appendix. (Courtesy Norma L. Gentner)
and they felt that micro-machines were not futuristic enough. They also discovered that the 2020s were going to be the "Golden Age of Nanobots," which would be the perfect time to launch their idea. The team left that professor's office disheartened, but ran into another professor from that department Mrs. Gentner had used before. He took them to a conference room and "really" helped them to understand through analogies and some math calculations just how small a nano was. Their project went through its final revision, and became a fleet of millions to billions of nanobots in a gel cap someone would swallow. There would be two types of Appy-Bots. One type would suck in surrounding liquids, flushing out the obstruction to the appendix, while the other would pick away at it.
The team took 2nd Place in the Nationals. National Winners and their Web sites/projects are posted on the ExploraVision Web site (http://www. exploravision.org). Or, you can go directly to the team's Web site (http:// www.exploravision.org/past-winners/winners-2005.php). Just scroll down the page until you get to "The Appy-Bot," and click on "View winning Web site."
Again, you asked how important nanotechnology is in the subject I teach. As you can see, it was extremely rewarding in its application to ExploraVision challenges, and future science. Due to the abstract nature of nano science though, not all students at the elementary level would be as ready as this team was in its application. Plus, most of the science taught at this level concerns itself with present science, and doesn't usually take a problem-solving approach. This was real-life application!
I think that the possibilities of what nanotechnology can do for medicine in the future and people in general are truly exciting. But, we have to take a different approach to science in elementary schools, where students are applying what they learn in the classroom to authentic questions/problems. You can go to their Web site at http://dev.nsta.org/evwebs/531/
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