“Big Bang goes Nano” premieres

For many years, SNI members have been attending the TecDays held at Swiss high schools on the initiative of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW). A range of talks provide Swiss students with continuing insights into the fascinating world of nanoscience.

The SNI outreach team recently premiered its new program, “Big Bang goes Nano”. In the beautiful Alte Kantonsschule school in Aarau, Dr. Kerstin Beyer-Hans and Dr. Michèle Wegmann presented entertaining explanations of two completely different nanoscience topics. The interactive program was based on Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler, two popular characters from the series “The Big Bang Theory”. Sheldon, a somewhat odd physicist, focuses on graphene and its particular suitability for conducting electricity, while Amy, a young neuroscientist, explores the protein misfolding that can lead to diseases such as Parkinson’s. After a theoretical introduction with some appropriate clips from “The Big Bang Theory”, the students sprang into action. Using a simple electricity circuit with a small LED, they saw how well the graphite in a pencil conducts electricity – even across a very thin layer on a sheet of paper.

The students were even more impressed by the second part of the program, which allowed them to see for themselves the challenges of living with Parkinson’s. A vibrating glove demonstrated, for example, how difficult it suddenly becomes to thread a needle or drink a small glass of water. Weights on their ankles and wrists illustrated the effort it takes to climb stairs or carry shopping.

“Before, I didn’t really know how hard and stressful it is to live with Parkinson’s. I see things in a completely different light now,” noted one student after removing the glove and weights. This practical experience will help the students to remember the theory behind the experiments, and may come back to them in a few years when choosing a degree course. “We always let the young people know about the University of Basel’s nanoscience degree program. It would of course be great to awaken their interest in our program,” explained Kerstin Beyer-Hans and Michèle Wegmann.