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Chemistry for Everyone

Art as an Avenue to Science Literacy: Teaching Nanotechnology through Stained Glass

Kimberly A. Duncan* Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison,

Madison, Wisconsin 53706, and Center for the Environment, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, New Hampshire 03264


Chris Johnson, Kyle McElhinny, Steve Ng, Katie D. Cadwell, and Greta M. Zenner Petersen

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

Angela Johnson

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, and Madison Children's Museum, Madison, Wisconsin 53703

Dana Horoszewski

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, and Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria, Virginia 22311

Ken Gentry

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, and Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801

George Lisensky

Department of Chemistry, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin 53511

Wendy C. Crone

Department of Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

Nanoscale science and engineering (NSE) and nanotechno- logy are emerging fields that have captured the attention of scientists and engineers, as well as mainstream media. However, NSE is not typically addressed in K-12 classrooms (1), and only recently have colleges and universities begun to offer coursework in this area (2). With limited educational opportunities available to learn about NSE, it is not surprising that a large percentage of the public has not heard of nanotechnology (3-5). Nevertheless, despite their lack of knowledge, consumers are already required to make decisions regarding the 800þ products on the market that claim to be nanotechnology-enhanced (6). To help fill this void in public understanding, national efforts are being made to increase student and public awareness of nanotechnology (e.g., the National Center for Learning and Teaching in Nanoscale Science and Engineering,; and the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network,; both sites accessed Jul 2010). One of the largest barriers to increasing public awareness may be finding an enticing hook to draw in students and members of the public to learn more about this new field of science and engineering. Often, approaching a topic from a seemingly unrelated angle can

engage students or members of the public who might otherwise be uninterested. These interdisciplinary approaches have used topics as diverse as literature (7), poetry, (8, 9), chemical magic shows(10), holiday-themed chemical demonstrations (10, 11), art history (12-14), and artistic composition (15, 16) to effectively convey scientific concepts. The October 2001 issue of this Journal, and National Chemistry Week of that same year, brought national attention to the interdisciplinary connections of science and art. In efforts to increase public scientific literacy, arguably an important task in a democratic society (17, 18), educators may encounter audiences who describe themselves as not interested in science, possibly even as hating science. Even for those audiences who do express interest in science, the subject matter may seem esoteric, dry, or unrelated to their everyday lives. Evaluation, both formal (8, 19, 20) and anecdotal (9, 11, 21), has shown that interdisciplinary approaches to teaching science are successful at increasing the target audience's interest in science and their understanding of the nature of science, the social relevance, and the relevant content. Alternative approaches have succeeded at engaging girls (19) in science learning, and preliminary survey data indicate that art may be a successful pathway to engaging

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Chemistry for Everyone

women in science (22). In this article, we describe a series of interdisciplinary activities that highlight the connections bet- ween medieval stained glass artistry and nanotechnology.

Combining Art and Cutting-Edge Science To Serve a Range of Audiences

The nanoparticle stained glass program described is a suite of activities and materials that can be used in a wide range of educational settings, such as museums, undergraduate courses, secondary-school classrooms, and other venues. The versatility of the program stems from adaptable learning objectives and the variety of activities from which an educator can choose. The multiple variations all can provide an interdisciplinary, highly interactive experience for students or members of the public. The learning objectives for the suite of nanoparticle stained glass activities include these three main concepts:

  • 1. Nanoparticles of gold and silver behave differently than bulk gold and silver

  • 2. There is an interconnection between science and art

  • 3. Nanotechnology has been used since the Middle Ages, even though stained glass artisans did not know they were taking advantage of this technology

These learning objectives are easily adapted to suit the intended audience. For example, to serve young learners (K-2), the objectives can be simplified and aligned with the learners' developmental stage. For example, objective 1 can be altered to: Very small particles of gold and silver are a different color than silver and gold jewelry, removing difficult vocabulary as well as contextualizing the normalcolor of gold and silver for the learner. Middle school and high school students prepared to learn advanced topics in physics and materials science can be challenged to explore why nanoparticles interact differently with light because of plasmon resonance and to research other ways art and science are connected (details are provided in the online supporting information). Programming intended for the general public can provide societal relevance by expanding objective 3 to include current uses and applications of nanotechnology. The nanoparticle stained glass program can be successfully used in diverse venues, ranging from classrooms, workshops, laboratories, summer camps, and public outreach events, because of the variety of activities available to educators. The available activities can be separated into three basic categories:

Introduction to the connections between science and art (specifically, nanotechnology and stained glass) Synthesis of nanoparticle solutions containing 4% poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) Use of the nanoparticle-PVA solutions or dried solid shapes to create art

Each of these categories has several variants that can be chosen and implemented in different ways, depending on the audience and venue. The following sections provide brief ex- planations of the activities available in each category, as well as suggested modifications for specific audiences and venues.

Connections between Science and Art

Throughout history, science and art have been interwoven in a symbiotic relationship. Practitioners of these two seemingly

disparate fields have relied on one another's skills, tools, and epistemological approaches in a variety of ways to advance and evolve their own field. For example, art forms, such as drawings or paintings, are frequently used to convey scientific or medical information. As early as 13,000 BCE, cave drawings of body parts aided Egyptians during the mummification process (23). This connection linking art and medicine continued through the ages, highlighted more recently in early modern Europe by the exquisitely detailed drawings by Andreas Vesalius and others of the human figure and anatomy (23). Advances in scientific knowledge can also impact the actual practice of art and, therefore, its products. During the 19th century, advancements in pigments, paint matrices, and dyes provided artists with nontoxic paints that could be used outside the studio. These practical modifications helped to give rise to the Impressionist movement and are still influencing artists' materials today (24). More recently, computer scientists have

transformed graphics design, and even movie production, through advancements in digital design programs and computer generated imagery (CGI). Artist Stephen Hilyard relied on these advancements in CGI technology to create Inconsolable, an exhibit of fictional photographs that challenges the viewer to question the reliability of digital photography (25). In some cases, scientific discoveries become forms of art them- selves, through photography, drama, and other media (26, 27). A unique collaboration at the University ofWisconsin-Madison made this the focus of their exhibit Tiny: Art from Microscopes at UW-Madison. Jointly curated by university researchers and a university-affiliated printmaking studio, the show features research images as works of art (28). Finally, art is often used as a pedagogical method for encouraging student engagement and understanding, such as observational drawings during a laboratory experiment or other activity. The projects discussed in this paper represent several of these symbioses of art and science. The metallic nanoparticles impart the colors used in the artistic objects, and artistic activities are used as hook for helping to student to engage with the complex natural phenomenon of plasmon resonance. When presenting to students or participants, drawing out these connections between art and science, and continually reiterating the connection between nanotechnology and medie- val stained glass artistry, is an important part of the activity. The presentation can vary in length, ranging from 2 to 30 min, as well as level of complexity. Shorter presentations are suggested for younger audiences and large outreach events designed for the general public. Settings that are more structured, like a high school classroom or science summer camp, allow for longer, more in-depth discussions of the relationships and overlap between art and science. Emphasis can also be placed on different portions of the presentations to achieve the desired learning outcomes. For example, an art educator may wish to extend the stained glass artistry section of the core presentation to introduce students to the methods used by medieval artisans for constructing stained glass windows or to the changes that stained glass artistry has undergone over time. A science educator, using the same core presentation, could use this activity to introduce the Tyndall effect or the properties of light. When feasible, the interdisci- plinary nature of nanoparticle stained glass also provides an excellent opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration bet- ween educators.

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Synthesis of Nanoparticle/PVA Solutions

These syntheses serve as excellent avenues for middle and high school teachers to incorporate nanotechnology into their classrooms while addressing state and national curricular standards; for exam- ple, structure and properties of matter, chemical reactions, and history of science (1). The nanoparticle stained glass extension of these laboratory experiments takes the published syntheses one step further by adding poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA, 95% hydrolyzed, average molecular weight 95,000, crystalline), a nontoxic, water- soluble polymer, available through Fisher Science Education. This polymer was selected for use in the activity because it is commercially available in the polymerized state. While other polymers may be possible, additional safety measures are required to polymerize the commercially available monomers. Evaporation of excess water from the nanoparticle/PVA solution results in hard plastic pieces, or nanoparticle stained glass, with the gold or silver nanoparticles embedded in the polymer matrix. A synthesis method for creating the nanoparticle/PVA solutions has been developed and tested for reliability. The synthesis method is as follows and is shown in video form in an online lab manual:(31, 32)

  • 1. Synthesize solutions of gold and silver nanoparticles following the video lab manual instructions (31, 32).

  • 2. Weigh 1 g of PVA for each 25 mL of nanoparticle solution.

  • 3. While stirring vigorously, heat nanoparticle solution to a tem- perature of 80-85 C. Then, add the PVA.

  • 4. Continue to heat the solution, maintaining the temperature at 80-85 C to dissolve most of the PVA. Note: Not all of the PVA will dissolve. Avoid overheating the silver nanoparticle solutions, as it may cause the nanoparticles to aggregate.

  • 5. Decant the nanoparticle/PVA solution into a clean container, leaving any undissolved PVA in the beaker.

At this point, the nanoparticle/PVA solutions can be used in three distinct ways using these options:

Solutions can be used immediately to create nanoparticle stained glasswindows, as described below. Solutions can be poured into molds and dried to create nanopar- ticle stained glasspieces for use in sculptures or other activities. While silicone bakeware molds are recommended, solutions can also be dried in other types of molds. Drying time can be reduced by heating the solutions in a standard toaster oven. Solutions can be stored in tightly sealed bottles for up to 6 months for use at another time.

The synthesis process is well suited for students in grades 9-12, and can be adapted for middle school students who will have appropriate supervision. As indicated in the online lab manual (31, 32), basic safety precautions (i.e., wearing safety goggles and chemical resistant gloves) should be taken during the synthesis of the gold and silver nanoparticles. These basic precautions will adequately protect participants from chemical exposure. The nano- particle/PVA solutions and nanoparticle stained glass pieces can also be prepared ahead of time by teachers, museum staff, or other personnel. Premaking the solutions is desirable in several instances and is recommended when:

Contact time with participants is limited Participants do not have the necessary lab skills to complete the syntheses

Chemistry for Everyone

Synthesis of Nanoparticle/PVA Solutions These syntheses serve as excellent avenues for middle and high school teachers

Figure 1. A student creates a nanoparticle stained glass window using nanoparticle/PVA solutions.

The selected venue is not equipped with the necessary lab equipment or space The educator wishes to limit participant exposure to the precursor reagents The activities do not require use of the solutions (e.g., making nanoparticle stained glass sun catchers, take-away cards, or sculptures)

Art Activities Using Nanoparticle Stained Glass

Once the nanoparticle/PVA solutions and nanoparticle stained glass pieces have been synthesized, they can be used to engage students and participants in a variety of creative art activities. Some audiences will enjoy using the solutions to make nanoparticle stained glass windows, while other audiences may be more interested in using premade pieces of nanoparticle stained glass to create a take-away card, sun catcher, or colla- borative sculpture. The suite of activities gives educators the opportunity to tailor the experience for the intended audience, venue, and learning goals.

Nanoparticle Stained Glass Windows

Using an overhead transparency and simulated liquid lead- ing (a water-based, nontoxic material available at most craft stores), students can create their own nanoparticle stained glass window, using provided patterns or one they design them- selves. The simulated liquid leading takes the place of the lead came, the metal channels medieval artisans used to assemble stained glass window. After allowing the simulated liquid leading to dry for an hour (or overnight), students use droppers or pipettes to fill in the different segments of their window pattern with the nanoparticle/PVA solutions (Figure 1). After students complete filling in their patterns, the win- dows are left to dry overnight. Once all the excess water evaporates from the nanoparticle/PVA solutions, a thin layer of colored plastic remains on the transparency (Figure 2). The nanoparticles of gold and silver embedded in the plastic cause the observed color. This variant of the activity works best for events that have extended contact time with participants, because the simulated liquid leading and the completed nanoparticle stained glass windows require extending drying time. The nanoparticle stained glass window activity can be adapted for use during programs with shorter contact time. Instead of making individual nanoparticle stained glass windows, participants can make one large collaborative nanoparticle stained glass window. The desired window pattern is pretraced

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Chemistry for Everyone Figure 2. A completed nanoparticle stained glass window. with simulated liquid leading by

Figure 2. A completed nanoparticle stained glass window.

with simulated liquid leading by the educator on a large piece of plexiglass and allowed to dry prior to its use. A variety of patterns, ranging from organizational logos, artistic designs, or mascots, can be traced. Educators are strongly encouraged to tailor this aspect of collaborative stained glass window to their event and anticipated audience. Examples of patterns used by the authors are shown in Figure 3. As in the classroom activity above, participants use droppers or pipettes to fill in the different segments of their window pattern with the nanoparticle/PVA solutions. Once the window pattern is completely filled in, the excess water is allowed to evaporate from the nanoparticle/PVA solutions. Generally, the water in nanoparticle/PVA solutions will completely evaporate overnight, leaving behind a thin layer of colored plastic in each segment of the traced pattern (Figure 3A). The collaborative nanoparticle stained glass window can be framed and placed on display for future visitors to admire. If the same pattern and piece of plexiglass needs to be used again, the nano- particle solutions can be rinsed off the plexiglass before they dry.

Nanoparticle Stained Glass Pieces for Take-Away Cards, Sun Catchers, and Sculptures

As mentioned above, the nanoparticle/PVA solutions can be dried to create hard plastic pieces that are embedded with gold and silver nanoparticles. These plastic pieces can be made using the following procedure:

  • 1. Pour the nanoparticle/PVA solution into silicone bakeware molds, using enough solution to cover the bottom of the mold. If silicone molds are not available, other molds can be used. Silicone molds were chosen because of durability and ease of cleaning.

  • 2. Set the molds with the solution in them out overnight so that the water in the solution will evaporate. This step may require more than 12 h, depending on the temperature and humidity of the work area. Drying time can be reduced by gently heating the molds in a toaster oven for an hour.

The resulting nanoparticle stained glass pieces can be used to make a take-away card, a sun catcher, or an artistic sculpture.

Take-Away Cards

Take-away items from informal education events give educators a way to reinforce the learning goals after participants have left the event. The nanoparticle stained glass program uses a take-away card, equal in size to a quarter sheet (5.5 in. by 4.25 in.) of paper that is 8.5 in. by 11 in., containing a 1-in. circular window (Figure 4). The circular window is created using a large

Chemistry for Everyone Figure 2. A completed nanoparticle stained glass window. with simulated liquid leading by

Figure 3. (A) Completed collaborative nanoparticle stained glass pa- nel, created by attendees at the Fall 2007 Materials Research Society Meeting. (B) Panel featuring the UW mascot to be used at a local outreach event. (C) Visitors help to complete a collaborative panel

featuring the NanoDays logo in spring 2009.

circular craft punch available at most craft stores. Participants use contact paper, or clear round stickers, to laminate small pieces of nanoparticle stained glass in the circular window. The card provides both visual and textual reminders of the program's goals. The text included on the front of the card reminds visitors and students that:

For hundreds of years, artists have used nanosized particles of silver and gold to create colored pieces of stained glass. Because of their small size, the nanoparticles behave differently than the metals we see in jewelry or coins. Color is one way nanoparticles behave differently. Depending on the size of the particles, nanoparticles of gold can appear orange, purple, green, or red, while nanoparticles of silver can appear yellow, red, or blue.

The back of the card provides a brief historical timeline of stained glass and an example of prairie-style stained glass that visitors are encouraged to color using the different colors of nanoparticles of silver and gold.

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Chemistry for Everyone

Chemistry for Everyone The take-away card activity works very well with a wide range of ages

Figure 4. A completed take-away card and associated supplies.

The take-away card activity works very well with a wide range of ages and settings, except for very early learners (preschool). The vocabulary on the card is too advanced for this audience, and the small size of the circular window in the card requires a degree of fine motor skills that many very early learners have not yet developed.

Sun Catchers

To extend the reach of the take-away card to the preschool audience, the activity was scaled up in size. Instead of a small 1-in. circular window, 3 in. 5 in. lamination sheets were used to make nanoparticle stained glass sun catchers. For this variation of the activity, participants use small, precut pieces of the nano- particle stained glass pieces and then arrange them in a desired pattern on one lamination sheet. A second lamination sheet is then used to seal in the nanoparticle stained glass pieces. A small tag can be added to the sun catcher to reinforce the simplified learning goals of the program: gold nanoparticles can appear red; silver nanoparticles can appear yellow (Figure 5).

Nanoparticle Stained Glass Sculptures

The nanoparticle stained glass pieces can also be used to create sculptures. Again, several variations are available to the educator when selecting this component of the suite of stained glass activities. A large suspended sculpture, crafted from irriga- tion tubing or metal conduit (available from a local hardware or home supply store), can be decorated using nanoparticle stained glass pieces (Figure 6A). The sculpture can be built prior to an event, acting as a spectacle to draw visitors to participate in the nanoparticle stained glass activities being showcased during an event. The sculpture can also be built collaboratively by visitors during the event, with each visitor hanging a piece of nanopar- ticle stained glass on the irrigation tubing or metal conduit frame. For a more individualized activity, students and visitors can create tabletop sculptures from large sheets of nanoparticle stained glass. (Large sheets of the nanoparticle stained glass can be obtained by using larger molds, e.g., 9 in. 13 in. silicone bake molds.) Using glue and wire, the sheets can be crafted into different shapes (Figure 6B).

Putting It into Practice

With such a range of activities available, the nanoparticle stained glass suite of educational materials can be used in a variety

Chemistry for Everyone The take-away card activity works very well with a wide range of ages

Figure 5.

A completed nanoparticle stained glass sun catcher.

Chemistry for Everyone The take-away card activity works very well with a wide range of ages

Figure 6. Nanoparticle stained glass sculptures can take many forms. (A) Large suspended sculpture on display on the UW engineering campus. (B) Smaller, table-sized sculpture created by UW Internship in Public Science Education intern and art education graduate student, Angela Johnson.

of settings, with a variety of audiences, to achieve a core set of learning goals. To illustrate this point, Table 1 describes several different approaches the authors have taken with the nanopar- ticle stained glass activities.


Basic safety precautions, namely, wearing safety goggles and chemical resistant gloves, should be used while synthe- sizing gold and silver nanoparticles and while handling the nanoparticle solutions during the art-based activities. See the online supporting information; the student-friendly synthesis methods of gold and silver nanoparticles previously published in this Journal (29, 30) ; and video lab manuals based upon these publications available online to aid teachers and stu- dents with the laboratory experiments (31, 32) . Chemical safety officers have instructed the authors that nanoparticle/ PVA solutions can be flushed down the drain with excess water. However, institutions should contact local officials because of the geographical variance in regulations regarding nanoparticles.

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Table 1. Examples of Events Where the Components of the Nanoparticle Stained Glass Activity Were Presented

Chemistry for Everyone

Activities Presented

Extended primer presentation given by instructor. Lab synthesis of nanoparticle/PVA solutions by students. Individual stained glass windows created by students.

1. Short primer presentation given by instructor.

Individual take-away cards created by visitors. Collaborative stained glass panel created by visitors.

1. Short age-appropriate primer presentation given by instructor.

Collaborative stained glass panel created by workshop participants. Individual take-away cards created by workshop participants. Individual sun catchers created by workshop participants.

Short age-appropriate primer presentation by instructor. Individual sun catchers created by visitors.

Adults in the scientific community 1. Facilitated discussion with meeting attendees led by presenter.

Individual take-away card created by meeting attendees. Collaborative stained glass panel created by meeting attendees. Collaborative sculpture created by meeting attendees.

1. Extended primer presentation led by instructor.

Individual stained glass windows created by workshop participants. Individual 2-dimensional sculptures created by workshop participants, later used in public installation at the Senior Center created by instructor.

Age-appropriate facilitated discussion by instructor. Individual sun catchers created by visitors.



















Middle school and high school students

General public

Young children (ages 6-9)

Young children (ages 4-6), accompanied by caregivers


General public (senior citizens)

Young children (ages 2-8), accompanied by caregivers

Event and Venue Description

Four- to five-hour summer workshop during precollege prep program.

Three, 30-min presentations, given as part of a large outreach event held on the UW campus.


One-hour workshop during summer art camps.

Drop-in program during open art studio time at the museum.

Tabletop demonstration during coffee breaks at large professional society meeting.


Three, one-hour classes offered as part of an art and science workshop.


Madison Children's Art Festival Tabletop presentation during a large public arts festival held at a Madison, WI art museum.


PEOPLE program workshop

UW Science Expeditions

Madison Children's Museum

Madison Children's Museum

Materials Research Society Fall and Spring Meetings

Madison Senior Center

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Formal Evaluation

We used an iterative evaluation process in the development of these educational materials. As processes and content were developed, feedback was obtained at several stages from colla- borators and other educators, including Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net) program developers, and the revised materials were presented to audiences in a range of venues. With each iteration of the educational materials' design, an opportunity to test the new materials with audiences was sought. These iterations including testing with the UW PEOPLE Program (a week-long college access program for underrepresented middle school students), the Materials Research Society Meeting attendees (Fall 2007 and Spring 2008), the Madison Senior Center, and the Madison Children's Museum. Results of a formal evaluation conducted at a large public event held on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus are described below. The version of the activity presented at Science Expeditions 2008 (see Table 1), a large, campus-wide science outreach event that draws over 2000 members of the public to campus, was formally evaluated via voluntary, anonymous attitudinal surveys (approved by Institutional Review Board). Over 200 members of the public attended the three scheduled presentations of this activity. Of these, 46 attendees opted to complete an anonymous survey. Survey data reveal that 95% of the respondents found the program both interesting and enjoyable (with 60% of the respondents selecting the highest possible ranking for interest or level of enjoyment). In addition to gauging level of enjoyment and interest, survey responses indicate that 75% of participants understood that the color of nanoparticles is size dependent, with six of the 31 respondents who addressed this question providing the distinct colors exhibited by the gold and silver nanoparticles used in the hands-on activity. When asked what the program was trying to show, nearly 30% of respondents cited the historical connection between nanotechnologists and medieval artisans. Other common themes cited by participants were applications (22%) and properties (16%) of nanoparticles, and nanotechnology's relevance to their lives (19%). A portion (32%) of survey respondents opted not to answer this question of the survey. While the public perception of the main idea of the program did not completely overlap with the proposed learning goals, there was strong indication that participants increased their overall knowledge and understand- ing of nanotechnology.


Engaging nonscience enthusiasts in informal science learn- ing often requires finding an appropriate hookor topic to pique learners' interest. To engage these learners, we created and evaluated a multifaceted activity connecting science and art:

specifically nanotechnology and stained glass. The highly inter- active nanoparticle stained glass activity has been successfully adapted to a wide variety of audiences and venues and the interdisciplinary nature engages a broad base of learners. Evalua- tion, via anonymous survey, showed that participants found the activity both interesting and enjoyable, and that participants understood the relationship between the size of nanoparticles and the color they appear.


Chemistry for Everyone

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the University of Wisconsin- Madison's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center on Nanostructured Interfaces (DMR-0520527), the Internships in Public Science Education program (DMR-0424350), and the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (ESI-0532536). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors would also like to thank our numerous collaborators and participating venues for their valuable feedback and generosity during the development process. We extend our sincere gratitude to the members of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net), with special thanks to Amy Grack-Nelson (Science Museum of Minnesota) for assisting with program evalua- tion and Rae Ostman (Sciencenter, Ithaca, NY) for her suggestion of the sun catcher adaptation for younger audiences.

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Supporting Information Available

Educator guides (one tailored for use in a classroom setting and one for use in informal venues); slide presentations, including a slide-by-slide script; PDF of the take-away card. This material is available via the Internet at

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