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Education and Outreach: Nanotechnology Activity Guides

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Nanomedicine: Problem-Solving to Treat Cancer

Audience: Middle school class
Time Needed: 50 minutes

Related Wisconsin Model Academic Science Standards:
Activity Materials:
Activity Instructions:

Presenting the Problem (10 minutes):
Educators should inform the students that when they walked through the door of the classroom, they became real scientists faced with a real problem. Educators should explain to the students that local doctors have a problem that needs to be solved quickly. In order to do this, the
students must form research teams. Educators should break the students randomly into groups. Once in a group, students should be given the “Attention Scientists” handout, and the educators should go over the handout with them. The students should be introduced to a profile of a patient
who has lung cancer. Lung cancer symptoms and current treatment methods should be discussed by the educators and students. The educators should present the students with a new lung cancer drug, currently undergoing testing (clinical trials). However, this new cancer drug is
very potent, and prolonged contact with other organs is harmful. The educators should stress that the new drug needs to be delivered directly to the lungs and remain there until it is absorbed.

To help students understand the anatomy involved in the treatment, the educators should show
the class a picture of the patient’s lungs and circulatory system to emphasize how easily a drug
can travel from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Brainstorming (30 minutes):
Each group should receive a plastic box of materials that includes: a vial of ferrofluid, an empty pill capsule, a magnet, a vial of iron particles in mineral oil, a plastic syringe, and an empty inhaler. Before students receive these items, the educators should hold up each one and briefly
describe it. Afterward, each group should receive a materials box and a copy of the “brainstorming” handout. Using the handout as a guide, students should be given 15-20 minutes to determine the best way to administer the new drug. During this time the educators should
visit each group and discuss the properties of each material provided as a way to encourage students to make the connection between the unique properties of ferrofluid and its potential applications. At the end of the brainstorming time, each group should write down its solution on
a big sheet of paper and explain why it would work the best. Representatives from each group should briefly present their ideas to the rest of the class. Members of other groups should be encouraged to ask questions.

Mini-Debate (10 minutes):
After the group presentations, the educators should lead the classroom in a mini-debate about the
following question: “Is one idea a better solution for this situation than the others? Why?”
Following this, the educators should lead a discussion on the atomic properties of ferrofluid.

Topics might include: particle size, atomic arrangement, magnetite, liquid coating, and why nanosized particles might be important in biocompatibility. At the end of the activity, educators should explain to the students that the problem they just addressed is one that real scientists are working on in the lab. Cutting-edge research is attempting to use ferrofluid to deliver drugs. Current concerns with using ferrofluid in this
manner should be discussed, including the fear of unknown side effects from ferrofluid's presence in the body and the uncertainty regarding ferrofluid's impact on the environment when it leaves the body.

Required Background Information:

Ferrofluid contains nano-sized particles with flow properties of liquids and magnetic properties of solids. They were first discovered by NASA when it was trying to control liquid in space. Ferrofluid consists of magnetite and a surfactant and is created according to the equation:

2 FeCl3 + FeCl2 + 8 NH3 + 4 H2O --> Fe3O4 + 8 NH4Cl

The particle size and the ratio of magnetite to surfactant are critical for obtaining the desired properties. A mixture with too
much or too little surfactant along with a large magnetite particle size will not display properties of a liquid. Ferrofluid can be used in computers disk drives, low friction seals, and loud speakers. UW MRSEC has previously developed a ferrofluid lab in which students
synthesize ferrofluid. In addition, in order to allow students and the general public explore the properties of ferrofluid, UW MRSEC created a table-top demonstration using a vial or aquarium of ferrofluid and a cow magnet “Comparison tubes” that contain other metals such
as iron fillings or cut-up paperclips have also been prepared to help students understand the special properties of ferrofluids.

Supplemental Materials:

If you are unable to open pdf files, please download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.


IPSE Interns: Melissa Kurth, Lauren Sammel

IPSE Leadership Team: Wendy C. Crone, Amy Payne, Greta Zenner, and Tom Derenne

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The Nanotechnology Activity Guides are a product of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and the Internships in Public Science Education Project of the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Funding provided by the National Science Foundation.