Nanoscience Minor Uses Service Learning to Teach Undergrads About Nano-Tech

Nanoscience Minor Uses Service Learning to Teach Undergrads About Nano-Tech

UCF student Dahlia Hurtado provides a lesson to science students at Jackson Heights Middle School in Oviedo as part of the service learning component of UCF's new nanoscience minor.

A new minor in the rapidly advancing field of nanoscience is now available for University of Central Florida undergraduates.

Nanoscience is the study of materials on the nanometer scale. That’s exceedingly small – a sheet of paper is about 75,000 nanometers thick. At the nanoscale, materials can exhibit unusual properties that scientists have put to use in a range of fields including physics, chemistry, biology and materials science.

There are frequent discoveries related to nanoscience, from simple tests for cancer to new types of sensors and ways to detect mosquito-borne diseases. But nanoscience degree programs are still relatively uncommon.

The Nanoscale Science and Technology minor at UCF aims to give students a grounding in the fundamentals of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Undergraduates gain a working knowledge of nanoscience principles and the industrial applications of nanoscience.

Physics professor Enrique del Barco, who helped launch the minor, said it will give students a leg up.

“There are more and more companies that are based in nanoscience,” del Barco said. “Whether students eventually go to a small, emerging nanoscience company or a big industry, if they have the root knowledge of what nanoscience is they may be first in line to get the job.”

The minor is an 18-credit hour program that includes three new core courses coupled with nine elective credit hours picked from a variety of disciplines, such as physics, materials science and chemistry.

The minor was designed with a service learning component. Student teams developed presentations about advances in nanoscience, then visited local middle schools to share them with young students.

“The idea behind service learning is that when you teach, you learn,” del Barco said.

Megan Turner, a junior majoring in biology and journalism, was one of the first 12 students to enroll in the nanoscience minor in fall 2015. She said the program’s focus on service learning helped her master the material.

“I don’t know how I would have managed without it,” she said. “With service learning in general, you have to understand the material so well you can teach it. And it was a really great feeling to see the connection and influence on these kids.”

Del Barco already has measured the success of the service learning component in research that is due to be published soon. The study found clear improvement in subject knowledge and critical-thinking skills among students who’d helped develop and deliver lessons to middle schoolers.

Turner found great value in the nanoscience minor.

“It’s applicable to every science – to biology, to physics, to chemistry,” she said. “It’s really easy for any science major to become involved in this, and it’s just so relevant.”