Weather Forecast


Students explore NanoDays at Headwaters Science Center

Selena Bueno of Onigum uses a magnet to move a magnetic liquid around in a test tube Thursday while exploring the NanoDays exhibits at the Headwaters Science Center. Bemidji Pioneer

Bethany Wesley

BEMIDJI — Avery Harper hunched over a glass beaker, closely examining a submerged nickel as it began to change color.

“You could see the edge of the nickel, it turned brown first,” the 17-year-old said afterward. “Then you could see the silver all over disappear.”

Avery, 17, a junior at Cass Lake-Bena High School, was working on an exhibit at the Headwaters Science Center Thursday as he explored a special installation on nanoscale science and engineering. Exhibits offered hands-on learning as participants explored technologies available when you work with materials on a nanoscale.

As small as we humans are to the sun is as small as nano is to us, said James Owens, with the Headwaters Science Center. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Manipulating such a tiny size is difficult, which is demonstrated through an analogy of sorts: Visitors are encouraged at one exhibit to put on oven mitts and manipulate toy building blocks into the shape of a house.

In the NanoDays installation, in place through today, Science Center visitors have been discovering magnetic liquids, and observing how a spring with “memory” qualities allows it to, after being stretched out, go right back to its original form when heat is applied. They observe how objects can be “hidden” when submerged in certain liquids, and then ponder the possibilities of invisibility cloaks.

But the exhibit also offers ways to explore the nano properties that exist naturally. Consider, for example, the Blue Morpho Butterfly. The butterfly appears blue but that color actually comes from nano-sized structures on the wings. When you hold a flashlight up to the wing, you can see its hue is actually brown.

The exhibit Harper was working with was designed to explore electroplating, technology that uses electricity to aid in coating coat a nickel with copper.

“It’s a nickel penny,” Owens said, joking that it now is worth 6 cents.

Each exhibit also poses questions and considerations for what these technologies could be used for in development. Owens said, for example, that the magnetic liquid — ferrofluid — is used to form liquid seals in hard disks. It also is used in currency, to make counterfeiting more difficult.

Another exhibit shows how nano fabric repels liquids so they don’t seep into the fibers, allows moisture to be wiped away. You can, then, easily imagine these as full-sized pants or clothing.

Visitors are also invited to fold up a cardboard template to create a model of a “buckyball,” a tiny, soccerball-shaped molecule. Owens said research has examined whether buckyballs can be used as containers for medication, so they could be sent directly to an area of the body that needs that medication and then released.

NanoDays is a national festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future. Organized by participants in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, the installation ends today in Bemidji, but a full, 600-square-foot interactive nano exhibit will arrive at the Science Center later this month, on loan through September courtesy of the Duluth Children’s Museum.

“It will be great for relationship-building between our two buildings,” said Susan Joy, director of the Headwaters Science Center.