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First-Year Engineering Students’ Learning of Nanotechnology through an Open-Ended Project

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

New Approaches and Applications to Enhance Technological Literacy - Part II

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.604.1 - 23.604.18



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Paper Authors


Kelsey Joy Rodgers Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Kelsey Rodgers is currently a graduate student at Purdue University in the School of Engineering Education. She is part of the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) research team. She conducts research within the First-Year Engineering Program to help understand what and how students are learning about nanotechnology.

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. She is a member of Purdue’s Teaching Academy. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member within the First-Year Engineering Program at Purdue, the gateway for all first-year students entering the College of Engineering. She has coordinated and taught in a required first-year engineering course that engages students in open-ended problem solving and design. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and assessment of model-eliciting activities with realistic engineering contexts. She is currently the Director of Teacher Professional Development for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE).

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Krishna Madhavan Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Krishna P.C. Madhavan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He is also the Education Director and co-PI of the NSF-funded Network for Computational Nanotechnology ( He specializes in the development and deployment of large-scale data and visualization based platforms for enabling learning analytics. His work also focuses on understanding the impact and diffusion of learning innovations. Dr. Madhavan was the Chair of the IEEE/ACM Supercomputing Education Program 2006 and was the curriculum director for the Supercomputing Education Program 2005. In January 2008, he was awarded the NSF CAREER award for work on transforming engineering education through learner-centric, adaptive cyber-tools and cyber-environments. He was one of 49 faculty members selected as the nation’s top engineering educators and researchers by the US National Academy of Engineering to the Frontiers in Engineering Education symposium.

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William C. Oakes Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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William (Bill) Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program and one of the founding faculty members of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He has held courtesy appointments in Mechanical, Environmental and Ecological Engineering as well as Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. He is a registered professional engineer and on the NSPE board for Professional Engineers in Higher Education. He has been active in ASEE serving in the FYP, CIP and ERM. He is the past chair of the IN/IL section. He is a fellow of the Teaching Academy and listed in the Book of Great Teachers at Purdue University./ He was the first engineering faculty member to receive the national Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning. He was a co-recipient of the National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education and the recipient of the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Educational Excellence Award and the ASEE Chester Carlson Award. He is a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Society of Professional Engineers.

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First-Year Engineering Students’ Learning of Nanotechnology through an Open-Ended ProjectFirst-year students know very little about nanotechnology1-3. The general public is ill-informedabout nanotechnogy4. This means that high school students are not receiving accurateinformation about a field that is changing many aspects of our world5-6 and offers many newlearning and discovery opportunities7. A partnership between faculty teaching a required First-Year Engineering (FYE) course at a Midwestern university and one of the university’s fundednanotechnology projects resulted in a FYE design project targeted at addressing multiple courselearning objectives and improving students’ awareness and knowledge of nanotechnology. Forthis project, student teams were to create an interactive learning environment (using MATLAB8)to teach high school students about nanotechnology through relevant state-standards for science.This research team is interested in (1) understanding what the FYE teams learned aboutnanotechnology through their work on this project and (2) identifying project improvementsneeded to increase students’ awareness and knowledge of nanotechnology. The followingresearch questions guide this work: (1) How do students define nanotechnology through theirproject work?, (2) What, if any, examples of nanotechnology do students discuss in theirproject?, and (3) What science concepts do they relate to nanotechnology?.In Spring 2012, approximately 240 students (~60 teams of four) in a required FYE coursecompleted the nanotechnology project. The milestones for this project entailed: (1) brainstormingand evaluation of ideas, (2) storyboarding the selected idea, (3) graphical user-interface layoutand flowcharting of functions needed, (4) beta version 1 development, (5) beta version 2demonstration to project partner representatives, and (6) final demonstration and executivesummary submission. To learn about nanotechnology, FYE students were given access to thepartners’ interactive online data and research sharing environment with 64,659 interactive users.The student teams’ executive summaries are the investigated data for this initial study. In thesesummaries, teams were to overview their solution, indicate changes made over the course of theirsolution development to better address the partner’s needs, and describe their success andshortcomings in meeting the given criteria. All 60 teams’ executive summaries were qualitativelyanalyzed through open coding to elicit themes concerning nanotechnology. These themes wherethen analyzed for patterns.Twenty percent of the teams gave a definition of nanotechnology; half of the teams mentioned ananoscale measurement. Half of the teams mentioned at least one type of nanotechnology; feweractually discussed these in any depth. Half of the teams were able to connect nanotechnology toa science state-standard; the majority of the teams focused on physics and chemistry concepts. Afew teams openly admitted there project did not heavily incorporate nanotechnology.It is evident that more scaffolding will be necessary to enable students to successfully learn aboutnanotechnology from the partner’s vast resources. An examination of the projects themselvesmay reveal that a greater number of teams incorporated nanotechnology more successfully thanwere able to convey this through their summaries. Results from this study begin to lay thefoundation for making recommendations for increasing students’ awareness and knowledge ofnanotechnology through self-discovery via open-ended project work.Bibliography1. Author, et al. (2007). Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.2. Author, et al. (2008). Journal of Science Education and Technology.3. Lu, K. (2009). A study of engineering freshmen regarding nanotechnology understanding. Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research, 10(1), 7-16. Retrieved from Castellini, O. M., G. K. Walejko, G. K., C. E. Holladay, C. E., Theim, T. J., Zenner, G. M., & Crone, W. C. (2007). Nanotechnology and the public: Effectively communicating nanoscale science and engineering concepts. Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 9(2), 183-189.5. Foster, L. E. (2005). Nanotechnology: Science, Innovation, and Opportunity, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.6. Lux research; nanotechnology-based products starting to have big consumer impact. (2004). Biotech Week, 469- 469. Retrieved from Mahbub Uddin,M., & Chowdhury, A. R. (2001). Integration of nanotechnology into the undergraduate engineering curriculum. Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Education, Oslo, Norway.8. Mathworks. (1994-2012). Retrieved from:

Rodgers, K. J., & Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Madhavan, K., & Oakes, W. C. (2013, June), First-Year Engineering Students’ Learning of Nanotechnology through an Open-Ended Project Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19618

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