Tiny Solutions for Big Problems: Introduction to Environmental Nanotechnology

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 24, 2019 - July 12, 20196/24 - 7/12M-F 12:15P-3:05POpenKatie Hills-Kimball
Michelle Muzzio

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Course Description

There are no shortage of environmental problems facing the world today. Whether it be toxic metals in water supplies, too much carbon dioxide (CO2) production, or even just how society talks about environmental problems in general. How can we possibly begin to solve such big problems? Nanotechnology offers "nano"-sized solutions that can make a huge difference. This course will introduce students to nanomaterials which can remove lead and arsenic from water, capture CO2 and reuse it to make fuel, and even make solar cells to convert energy from the sun to energy we can use. While learning the basics of nanotechnology, students will begin to see how these basics can be applied to the problems they have seen all over the media. This course will present state-of-the-art science in a way that students can begin to think about what are the major environmental issues facing our world today. After knowing these big problems, they can possibly start to think about how they can help fix these problems using nanomaterials in the years to come.

Nanotechnology is everywhere. From our cell phones, to the newest cancer treatments, to even the food we eat (yes, even there!), nanotechnology offers solutions to almost every problem a person can imagine. However, because the applications of nanotechnology are so diverse, classes designed about their theory and applications need also be diverse to properly communicate how best to design a nanomaterial for a desired solution. With this in mind, this class targets specifically environmental nanotechnology through lectures and project-based discussions.

Topics covered in the class include, but are not limited to:
- An overview of what nanotechnology is, why it works, and fundamental nanomaterial design theory using examples from the scientific literature and the media.
- Discussion about popular nanomaterial characterization techniques used in research laboratories, with examples from the scientific literature and the media
- Brief introduction to some samples of environmental technology scientific literature through reading and writing assignments in and out of class to increase exposure and understanding of what life is as a scientist
- Case studies and group discussions about environmental problems facing the world today and current nanotechnology being used to solve such problems (solar cell fabrication, fuel cell design, lead and arsenic removal from water, CO2 reduction, water purification and desalination, etc.)
- Student-lead projects (presentation-based) about an environmental problem that is most interesting to the student (or student group) in which students will engage with problems facing the world (by understanding what nanotechnology has been implemented already, and how possibly it can be improved). Students will offer their thoughts as well as discuss with their peers how they can begin to think about and potentially solve such big problems.

This course offers an authentic and intensive experience into what contributes to nanomaterial design specifically for applications in environmental nanotechnology. Students will hopefully leave with a greater understanding of nanotechnology (which typically may not be part of a standard high school curriculum). Students will also get a sense for some of the biggest problems facing our world and how they (with further training in nanomaterials design and implementation) can begin to solve them. With this in mind, hopefully such a course will serve as a catalyst for students to become more interested in environmental nanotechnology (whether as a scientist, policy creator, or in any career path they choose).

-Students will be able to answer "Why should we use nanotechnology to solve some of the world's largest problems?" (ie. understand the high surface-to-volume ratio of nanomaterials, discern the advantages of nanomaterials over bulk materials, work through examples in the media/literature of nanomaterials being used in environmental applications)
-Students will begin reading through primary literature about environmental nanotechnology
-Students will choose what they think is the largest environmental problems facing our world, review what materials have been used to address the problem, and add their own thoughts of what can be improved using nanotechnology through interactive presentations and discussions

Prerequisites: Required: High school algebra and chemistry
Recommended (but not required): High school physics and geometry


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0919
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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