News

November 09, 2009

It Was A Big Day Full Of Small Things

By: by Cathy Woodruff, Staff Writer, Times Union

Source:

ALBANY -- Saturday's University at Albany nanocollege community day drew a big crowd eager to learn more about the science of very small things.

At events offered around the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering complex, an estimated 1,000 visitors were invited to sample the tasks, questions and concepts that fill the days of more than 2,500 scientists, researchers, engineers, students and faculty members who work at the institution.

Dylan Thompson, of Richmondville, a third-grader at Worcester Central School District in Otsego County, donned a clean-room suit with help from Stephen Stewart, an equipment evaluation and support specialist at the college. The process, which took several minutes, involved putting on multiple layers of boots and booties, hat, hood, jumpsuit, mask, gloves, safety glasses and other garments.

His mother, Jill Thompson, said Dylan's strong interest in all things scientific was part of what drew the extended family, including cousins who live in Colonie, to the open house.

"In 10 years, I'm sure, he'll be working here," she said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Cody Izzo of Galway found fascination in the hydrogen-powered model cars set up in the north rotunda. A graduate student directed a high-powered lamp that mimicked sunlight on a small solar panel, producing electricity that acted on a container of water to separate hydrogen atoms and power the cars.

"The hydrogen is really cool," Izzo said -- apparently a slang description of his own interested opinion, not the temperature of the gas.

Retirees Jim and Beverly Traa of Troy took in the activity in the rotunda as they stood in line waiting to tour a clean room, a laboratory where nanotech employees do some of their most delicate work.

"We want to stay up to speed on what's happening in the scientific community and what's going to make this part of the state economically viable," said Jim Traa.

"We're also interested in the future, with regard to employment," added Beverly Traa. "We have a number of grandchildren, and we are interested in what their future may be. Naturally, we are self-interested, and we want to keep them around us."

This was the second time the college has opened its doors to the community for such presentations. This year's event is part of a series of "NANOvember" programs, which include four Monday night lectures, sponsored through a promotional partnership with Key Bank.

"The idea is to help people learn the impact nanotechnology is having on society and to see that the world's leading nanotechnology research and development facility is located right in their back yard," said college spokesman Steve Janack.

Other activities included auditorium presentations about nanotechnology, an opportunity for children to build computer chip models out of Lego plastic blocks, and a chance to have their height measured in nanometers.

Chris Breslin, a 25-year-old graduate student from Long Island, was manning a table with microscopes and slides, where visitors could get a sense of the size of yeast cells, tiny transistor parts and polystyrene beads.

"When people get a sense of scale, that's the shock factor," Breslin explained. "When you just say there's a billion transistors on a computer chip, that doesn't mean anything to them. This can give people a sense of what we are talking about here and why it's so difficult to make these computer chips -- and so expensive."