Fire up your iPod Nano, strap on your "Nano grey" Nikes (yes, that's a real color), and head over to the Children's Museum of Houston this weekend to celebrate the sixth annual NanoDays–a nationwide festival intended to educate children about nanoscale science and engineering. The festival was founded in 2005 by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE), an association of scientists and educators who wanted to counter misperceptions about nanotechnology and tout the technology's potential benefits. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the festival is now celebrated by museums in all fifty states and Puerto Rico.
The Children's Museum was a participant in the event from the beginning, and is now one of the 14 "core partner" organizations that organize each year's festival. This year, the museum's programming includes numerous nanotech-related exhibitions for children, as well as a play, "Attack of the Nanoscientist," about a villain from the future who tries (and fails) to conquer the world using nanotech inventions. The villain is foiled by a nanoscientist, who explains to the audience that, contrary to certain rumors, nanotechnology will not actually destroy the world.
Keith Ostfeld, the museum's director of educational technology and exhibit development, said he wants to help people feel more comfortable about what many see as a strange new technology. "People see the iPod Nano and lots of books about nanotechnology, but they don't really know what it is," Ostfeld says. "It's not scary, it's not dangerous, it's not futuristic. It's here right now. We need to be informed about it as citizens so we can make decisions about it."
In past years, Ostfeld himself played the villain in "Attack of the Nanoscientist." This year, the museum recruited Rice professor Jacob Robinson, an actual nanoscientist, to play the hero. Needless to say, the play isn't likely to receive any Tony nominations. "We're working on the acting," Ostfeld says, laughing.
March 28–April 3
The Children's Museum of Houston
Tue–Sat 10am–6pm; Thu Free Family Night 5–8pm; Sun noon–6pm