Nanotechnology is big in my area — no pun intended.
Here in the Capital District of New York, we’ve got The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) of the University at Albany – State University of New York, a new microchip plant in nearby Malta, and in Troy, there’s the Molecularium Project.
An outreach and education effort of the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center, the Molecularium Project’s work has been aimed at introducing young children to the molecular world. Its productions include Riding Snowflakes, a 23-minute immersive show for digital domes and planetariums released in 2005, and Molecules to the MAX!, a 40-minute Large Format feature film released in 2009.
This year the project has added a new feature to its website called NanoSpace. It’s a “virtual theme park” that can be enjoyed anywhere there’s a computer, not just in the RPI area. NanoSpace offers more than 25 games and animations that teach kids about atoms and molecules. The games include Polypeptide Puzzler, which asks you to assemble molecular chains before time runs out; Build ’em, an arcade drag-and-drop games that shows you how to construct organic molecules; and the H2O Parlor, where you have to adjust the water dispenser’s temperature to fill the customers’ orders for snowcones, water or steam filled balloons before they get annoyed and walk away. Many of the NanoSpace games and activities feature the characters Oxy and Hydra from the Molecularium’s movies.
In addition, there are five new short animated videos starring Mel, the Molecularium computer, as he talks about atoms, molecules, polymers, and DNA. RPI’s press materials explain that “NanoSpace is designed to increase science literacy in children with all interests and backgrounds – not just those who have an existing passion for science.”
I sampled some of the games, and while they were simple, I can vouch for their entertainment and education value. Young kids will enjoy them (although parents might want to turn down the repetitive sound effects). If you’re looking for a way to get your kids thinking about nanoscience, NanoSpace is a great place to start!