Nano Activities

Exploring Tools 2

How do we know what things on the nanoscale look like? If they are so small that a regular microscope can’t help us to view them, how can we see them? Another demonstration to show how scientists use many tools is to use our senses in a different way.

You’ll need:

  • Two people (one should be an adult)
  • An object that can be held/touched safely
  • Paper and a sharpened pencil
  • Optional: a box in which to place the object so that it is only seen by the first person


What you’ll do:

  1. Set up in a place where the object can be drawn on the paper, like a desk or a table.
  2. Have an adult retrieve an object that the second person won’t see.
  3. With one hand, the second person only touches the object (no peeking!) and uses the other hand to draw what is felt.
  4. When the drawing is finished, look at the object. How well does the drawing match what is seen? Are there any parts missing from the drawing?Tools 2

What happened?
While one hand was touching the object and the other hand was drawing, you modeled a “scanning probe microscope” or SPM. This type of microscope moves a super pointy and sharp tip (your hand) to move across the nano object and the computer program translates the information into a picture (your drawing.) There are some details that may be missing from the imaging but this tool was a breakthrough for nanotechnology scientists. It allows them to create images of individual atoms, which allows scientists to study and manipulate the atoms.

Check out this video from the University of Wisconsin for further information on this type of microscope.