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New NSF and NBC Learn video series shows off big discoveries from tiny particles


Learn how researchers use atoms and molecules to build future technology

Why are things so small, so significant? A new video series created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBCUniversal News, sheds light on this question.

Quantum dots (QD) are nanoscale crystals that can emit light at different wavelengths creating brilliant colors. Scientists can control the size of a QD in order to determine which color it emits. This array moves from blue emitting QD with radii of 2-3 nm up to red QD with radii of 5-6 nm. Learn more by watching episode 4 of Nanotechnology: Super Small Science.

Credit: NSF & NBC Learn

By exposing a glass plate placed inside a vacuum chamber to the correct amount of heat and carbon mixed gas, scientists can cause forests of carbon nanotubes to grow on its surface. These carbon nanotubes absorb light and can help reduce glare on screens.

Credit: NSF & NBC Learn

"Nanotechnology: Super Small Science" is a six-part series and shows viewers how atoms and molecules that are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair can be used as building blocks to create future technology. The series features a dozen world class American researchers, including quantum physicist and National Medal of Science winner Paul Alivisatos.

"Today we are learning to rearrange the basic atomic and molecular building blocks -- foundational technology for understanding nature and creating things that were not possible before," said Mihail Roco, senior adviser of science and engineering at NSF and a key architect of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). "These videos, produced while nanoscience is still in formation with so much potential, tell stories that will inspire younger generations and future results."

Narrated by NBC News and MSNBC anchor Kate Snow, "Nanotechnology: Super Small Science" will be available through NBC affiliate stations and can also be seen for free online at, and

"We're proud to launch an original series that shows viewers how scientists and engineers manipulate material only billionths of a meter in size, and the powerful impact that can have on the world around them," said Soraya Gage, vice president and general manager of NBC Learn. "Through our partnership with the National Science Foundation, we're using our digital platform and journalistic expertise to explore how nanotechnology advances innovation in fields such as medicine, energy and electronics."

"For 15 years, more discoveries have come from Nanotechnology than any other field of science and engineering. Now its discoveries are penetrating all aspects of society -- new industries, medicine, agriculture and the management of natural resources," added Roco.

In the videos, viewers learn how scientists use nanotechnology to capture energy from the sun, increase the power of smaller microchips and computers, build structures that are lightweight and resilient and much more:

Nanotechnology: Harnessing the Nanoscale - Why is something only billionths of a meter in size so important? Dawn Bonnell at the University of Pennsylvania shows how the ability to control and manipulate material at this extremely small scale is having a big impact around the world in medicine, energy and electronics.

Nanotechnology: A Powerful Solution - Paul Alivisatos' team at the University of California, Berkeley, is working to develop a new type of solar cell using nano-sized crystals called quantum dots. Quantum dots are already helping to produce brighter, more vivid color in displays. The ability of solar cells to efficiently process energy in the form of light also makes them an ideal solution to our energy problems.

Nanotechnology: Nanoelectronics - You may have nanotechnology in your pocket and not even know it. Today's smartphones are much smaller than computers of the past and yet significantly more powerful, thanks to nanotechnology. Tom Theis with the Semiconductor Research Corporation and IBM, and Ana Claudia Arias at the University of California, Berkeley, explain how nanotechnology has already changed our lives and the exciting possibilities for the future.

Nanotechnology at the Surface - How could something only billionths of a meter thick defend against water, dirt, wear and even bacteria? Working at the nanoscale, scientists and engineers, like Jay Guo of the University of Michigan, are creating protective nanoscale coatings and layers. These surfaces have applications in energy, electronics, medicine and could even be used to make a plane invisible.

Nanotechnology: Nanoarchitech - Caltech's Julia Greer is proving that using big and heavy materials is not the only way to build strong, robust structures. Beginning at the nanoscale, her group is constructing materials that are more than 99 percent air yet strong and resilient. These new materials are breaking the rules by behaving in very unexpected ways.

Nanotechnology: Nano-Enabled Sensors and Nanoparticles - Some of the biggest advances in medical technology may soon come from devices built on the nanoscale. Donglei Fan with the University of Texas at Austin and Paula Hammond with Massachusetts Institute of Technology discuss how their use of nanotechnology may one day sense, diagnose and even treat cancer.

"We want to spread the excitement of the nano world -- especially to the younger generation -- for they will start to realize its extraordinary potential," said Roco.

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