Asee peer logo

Nanotechnology Solutions to Engineering Grand Challenges

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 6: Design and Design Chanllenges

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Edward W. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Edward W. Davis received his PhD from the University of Akron in 1996. He worked in the commercial plastics industry for 11 years, including positions with Shell Chemicals in Louvain-la-Nueve Belgium and EVALCA in Houston TX. He joined the faculty at Auburn University in the fall of 2007. In 2014 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer. He has regularly taught courses in three different engineering departments. In 2015 he began his current position as an Assistant Professor in the Materials Engineering Program.

visit author page


Joni M. Lakin Auburn University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Joni M. Lakin, Ph.D. from The University of Iowa, is Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Technology at Auburn University. Her research interests include educational assessment, educational evaluation methods, and increasing diversity in STEM fields.

visit author page


Virginia A. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr.Virginia A. Davis’ research is primarily focused on using fluid phase processing to assemble cylindrical nanomaterials into larger functional materials. Targeted applications include optical coatings, 3D printed structures, light-weight composites, and antimicrobial surfaces. Her national awards include selection for the Fulbright Specialist Roster (2015), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum’s Young Investigator Award (2012), the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2010), and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2009). Her Auburn University awards include the Excellence in Faculty Outreach (2015), an Auburn University Alumni Professorship (2014), the Auburn Engineering Alumni Council Awards for Senior (2013) and Junior (2009) Faculty Research, the Faculty Women of Distinction Award (2012), and the Mark A. Spencer Creative Mentorship Award (2011). Dr. Davis is the past chair of Auburn’s Women in Science and Engineering Steering Committee (WISE) and the faculty liaison to the College of Engineering’s 100 Women Strong Alumnae organization which is focused on recruiting, retaining and rewarding women in engineering. She was also the founding advisor for Auburn’s SHPE chapter.
Dr. Davis earned her Ph.D. from Rice University in 2006 under the guidance of Professor Matteo Pasquali and the late Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley. Prior to attending Rice, Dr. Davis worked for eleven years in Shell Chemicals’ polymer businesses in the US and Europe. Her industrial assignments included manufacturing, technical service, research, and global marketing management; all of these assignments were focused on enabling new polymer formulations to become useful consumer products.

visit author page


P.K. Raju Auburn University

visit author page

Dr. P. K. Raju is the Thomas Walter Distinguished professor of Mechanical Engineering at Auburn University. He is the co-founder and director of the NSF-funded Laboratory for Innovative Technology and Engineering Education (LITEE). LITEE has been recently recognized by the National Academy of Engineering as one of the model programs in the country that has successfully infused real world experiences into engineering undergraduate education. He is also the founder and director of the Auburn Engineering Technical Assistance Program (AETAP). Prior to coming to Auburn in 1984, Dr. Raju held faculty positions in several universities in India and visiting positions at the Catholic University of America, Purdue University, and the Technical University of Berlin. Dr. Raju received his Ph.D. from the Indian institute of Technology, Madras, in 1977. He has made significant research contributions in engineering education and innovations, acoustics, noise control, nondestructive evaluation and technology transfer, resulting in award-winning and significant breakthroughs. He has received a total of $12 million in funding, including grants from industries, the United Nations, the National Science Foundation, NIST, NIH, EDA and other U.S. and international agencies. He has published 24 books, eight book chapters and 200 papers in journals and conference proceedings. He has received several awards for his teaching, research and outreach work from INEER, NASA, NSF, ASME, ASEE, Auburn University and others. He served as an United Nations and UNDP expert and as a World Bank lecturer. He has held Invited Professorships at the Université Bordeaux I, Talence, and Université Du Havre, Le Harve, France. He has been an invited/ keynote speaker at several national and international conferences. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education, a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers (India), and a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of India. He is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research

visit author page

Download Paper |


This research paper describes the results of a teaching approach that utilizes educational modules focusing on nanotechnology and the NAE Grand Challenges. The purpose of these modules is to address two issues in undergraduate engineering education, retention and nanotechnology education. Over the last decade, there have been a plethora of initiatives focused on formal, and informal, K-12 nanotechnology education. A growing amount of high quality content is available through multiple online resources including However, there is often a large gap in nanotechnology education opportunities between high school and senior/graduate level electives. Engineering freshman, a growing number of whom have developed a high degree of interest in the potential of nanotechnology, must wait until graduate school or, if they are lucky, senior level elective classes to obtain any further nanotechnology education. A few schools offer undergraduate nanotechnology degrees or specializations, but at many schools (including our own) much of the emphasis on nanotechnology has been in the form of academic research and electives for seniors and graduate students. In fact, a visual representation of courses available on shows the vast majority are targeted at the junior level or above. Research indicates that a change in public perception of the role of engineers in society is required to facilitate the recruitment and retention of students to the profession. To that end NAE developed Engineering Messages to help “rebrand” the engineering profession. In 2008, the NAE launched the Engineering Grand Challenges website including fourteen grand challenges that highlight key challenges facing modern society. These Grand Challenges reinforce the engineering messages of how engineers and their creative problem solving skills are essential to improving our world and shaping the future. Despite efforts to recruit more students to the engineering profession many school see a dramatic attrition rate between freshman and sophomore years. Connecting students’ interests in nanotechnology to their first-year engineering courses and the Grand Challenges was therefore seen as an important strategy to promote nanoliteracy and engineering retention. Each module includes: 1) an introduction to the Grand Challenges in general (may not be included if multiple modules used in semester), 2) a discussion of the ‘current state of the art’ for a specific Grand Challenge and needs for addressing the challenge, 3) a knowledge-centered introduction to potential nanotechnology enabled solutions, and 4) hand-on activities for use with the three previous sections. The initial modules focusing on the Grand Challenges “Make Solar Energy Economical” and “Reverse Engineer the Brain” have been developed and used in summer camps for entering freshman and as part of the Chemical Engineering Freshman Engineering course. Initial assessment of effects of the module on nanotechnology knowledge gains, broader engineering and Grand Challenges knowledge gains, and increased commitment to and engagement in engineering will be discussed.

Davis, E. W., & Lakin, J. M., & Davis, V. A., & Raju, P. (2016, June), Nanotechnology Solutions to Engineering Grand Challenges Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25769

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015