How a Phenom SEM Impacts Nanoscience Education

An Interview with Mike Blok

Project NANO is a Nanoscience And Nanotechnology Opportunities outreach that changes student perspective from a fear of science to be excited about science and technology. Not only do teachers and students learn more about the nanoscale world, they actually see and experience it with a Phenom scanning electron microscope (SEM). It is “amazing” to teachers that the Phenom desktop SEM can be rotated through classrooms across the Portland, OR area for hands-on interaction and learning. Students that had tuned out of class are turned back on to science.

The power of Project NANO is to:
“Create scientists that learn the power of observation, that learn what analysis can lead to in terms of the next question.”

Project NANO began as a collaborative effort in 2009 between Portland State University (PSU) and local high school faculty to increase K-12 students’ understanding of nanoscale phenomena. Today, high school teachers Mike Blok and Keith Grosse, along with Sherry Cady, formerly at PSU, are the project leaders. Every summer they offer workshops for teachers to learn inquiry-based activities that use research-grade optical and electron microscopes. The first summer, 15 teachers were trained on two SEMs. Now about 75 teachers have completed the training. As a result, 10,000 students have been impacted since the project’s inception. That’s amazing too!

“The Phenom for classroom use is so easy,” summarizes Mike Blok, co-project leader for Project NANO. “The Phenom SEM gets students over their fear and excited about science.”

Once teachers have completed the workshop, the Project NANO toolkit comes to their classroom for about 14 days. The toolkit includes the Phenom SEM, a light microscope, and consumable items. Students use the microscopes, visualizing what they can see with their eyes to images magnified up to 20,000x! Very quickly, curiosity sparks questions: “What is that?” “Why does it look like that?”

Samples such as pollen from local environments can be imaged in the classroom with the Phenom SEM. Thanks to the Project NANO toolkit, unique nanoscience experiences are created.

The Phenom SEM is the size of a desktop computer, making mobility possible. The instrument has a user-friendly interface so teachers and students alike quickly learn to use the SEM. The Phenom SEM also has an optical camera that is correlated to the integrated motorized sample stage and electron image. This allows students to pick a location on the sample in the optical image and quickly zoom into an electron microscope image.

The versatility of the Phenom SEM offers cross-curricular opportunities. Project NANO curriculum development includes science inquiry and engineering design. To sign up for a workshop or see how you can implement a program in your area, visit the Project NANO website.