The University of Maryland MRSEC grants ended in September 2013 after 17 years of successful operation. This site remains as a history of the center, but will not be actively maintained.
University of Maryland
Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at the University of Maryland, College Park collaborates with area museums to engage thousands of national and international visitors in the excitement of materials science and technology. These partnerships provide high-profile venues to display information and materials, lead inquiry-based activities, present public lectures, and offer professional development workshops for teachers.
Working closely with the Port Discovery Children’s Museum (PDCM) in Baltimore, Maryland, the UMD MRSEC has created NanoFabulous, an exciting interactive museum exhibition designed to help children and their families understand how scientists and engineers discover and invent things they cannot see. “We believe you are never too young to start learning about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and the earlier we can engage children, the more likely they are to develop a life-long interest in STEM," says Nora Moynihan, Port Discovery Children's Museum's Director of Education. "One of our primary goals with Nano is to present nanoscience to children in a fun and engaging way that they can understand, and the University of Maryland, College Park's MRSEC team has helped us achieve that."
In 2008, the UMD MRSEC and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum established a partnership to enhance STEM learning for PDCM visitors. The goals of this partnership encompass a wide range of objectives that require a long-lasting and resilient partnership. Starting with programming activities for NanoDays and hands-on science for PDCM’s Discovery Days, the partnership has taken on increasingly ambitious projects, leading to the creation of NanoFabulous. Donna Hammer, MRSEC Associate Director, described the partnership between the UMD MRSEC and PDCM by saying, “Our partnership is built on common goals, mutual respect, realistic expectations, flexibility, and open communication. From these qualities, we have built trust, which has blossomed into a synergy between the two institutions that has seeded a long and fruitful partnership.”
The UMD NanoFabulous team consisted of twenty-three members, including MRSEC staff, faculty, research scientists, post doctoral students, graduate students, and undergraduate students from the departments of physics, chemistry, and engineering. Within the team, interdisciplinary groups were created to provide the best technical and scientific expertise for each exhibit piece. The team worked for a period of seven months from inception to exhibit installation.
The NanoFabulous Exhibition is an interactive exhibition designed to help children and their families understand how scientists and engineers discover and invent things we cannot see. Hammer explains, “NanoFabulous is designed to share with Port Discovery visitors what happens way down at a billionth of a meter and how nano scientists and engineers learn about these phenomena when their eyes can’t see and their hands can’t touch the things they want to explore.” NanoFabulous includes five main exhibit components that invite visitors to explore the processes and instruments that make nanotechnology a reality. The exhibit features a Magnification Table, where visitors discover the microscopic secrets on the surfaces of objects by using magnifiers of different strengths; a Cleanroom, where visitors enter the controlled environment of a simulated high-tech cleanroom and learn how researchers fabricate the nano-devices of tomorrow; a Probes Table, where visitors have fun understanding how nano-probes function and are used to measure the surface of materials at the nanoscale; a Lego Scanning Probe Microscope Station, where visitors see how a scanning probe microscope (made of LEGOs!) creates a nano image; and a Nearfield Scanning Optical Microscope Station, where visitors see a microscope that uses light with a scanning probe to image objects at the nanoscale.
NanoFabulous opened on April 12, 2012 with a well-attended media event. Elementary school students, Congressman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, and local press helped bring the excitement and importance of science education to the public.
Over a hundred thousand visitors have had a NanoFabulous experience. Since the installation of the exhibition, the UMD MRSEC and PDCM have developed and implemented successful programming activities to enhance visitors’ experiences with NanoFabulous. These include family scavenger hunts, school groups, summer camps, Meet a Scientist, museum educator workshops, Discovery Days, NanoDays activities, conversations about nano and society, and their newest exhibition component, How Do You Nan-Know?