Nano-Link Conference 2014

nano-link-3The 2014 Nano-Link Conference in Minneapolis focused on nanoscience/ nanotechnology education. I (Miguel) attended to learn about teaching nanotechnology in high school. Here is some of what interested me:

Nano_LogoKaren Arnold of Nanocopoeia said a great high school project would be anything that requires students to define a problem, design an experiment, execute it, and then prove their results. It would not have to be nano to be useful to her nano company. The qualities her company looks for in employees are technical skills, analytical skills, critical thinking, curiosity, teamwork, and fearlessness. Her company has an every Friday “lunch & learn” during which someone introduces a new idea, nano or not, and teaches everyone else about it.

imgresJustin Patten of Hysitron looks for these key skills: instrumentation, statistics, technical knowledge, problem-solving, attention to details, precision, reliable, motivated, passionate, willing and able to learn, and be the master of something. He told stories about how applicants often think that they know how to be precise, but nano is a whole ‘nother level of precision. Justin recommended developing a diverse background. For instance learn tech and marketing or graphic arts, or information technology and nano. It will make you much more valuable.

RJA_Logo_copy2Joseph Ward of RJA Dispersions looks for this in potential employees: math and chemistry labs, the ability to create formulas in spreadsheets, follow a recipe, get down and dirty (there’s no such thing as “it’s not my job”), learn new skills quickly, understand process, diagnose problems, propose solutions, be creative, get comfortable with trying out new things, identify needs and volunteer, understand company goals, be ready to grow, (always stretching), and have fun with it.

boston-scientific-logoVincent Ijioma of Boston Scientific described his career into and through nanotechnology. He provided many interesting examples of how the very definition of nanotechnology has been confused, and is even feared. By not advertising them as such, he has used his nanotechnology and nanoscience skills to create “miracles.” When asked how he would teach nano to high school students, he said to make nano instrumentation merely tools in the service of a greater project. Once the challenge is properly structured, instructors could shift from lecturing to facilitating students’ access of tools such as SEM or AFM.

maya_blue_02Maya Blue is the name of the colorant  found in murals from Mesoamerica dating back many centuries. The remarkable thing about Maya Blue is that it lasts, it does not degrade with time, chemicals, or ultraviolet light. Thomas Higgins of Harold Washington College gave a fascinating presentation on Maya Blue and a variant called Maya Green, explaining how they’re made, their nano structure, and their cultural context. Natural colorants tend to be in the warmer part of the spectrum, orange to red. Because of that, blue green pigments were rare in preindustrial society. That makes Maya Blue stand out. Maya Blue is made from indigo, which gives its blue color, palygorskite, which is a clay that gives it its enduring nature, and copal, a tree sap that burns at just the right temperature to drive water from the clay channels and allow the indigo in. While Thomas is confident about the formulation for Maya Blue, he says that his creation of a green colorant by using copal not just as a fuel source but as an ingredient is speculative. Still, what he calls Maya Green does appear to match some areas of Mayan murals.

Both indigo and palygorskite can be used for health: indigo as a disinfectant, one reason bluejeans don’t smell, and palygorskite clay is used in Kaopectate (the Canadian version, not the US). Paul speculated that since Maya Blue uses no metals to achieve its color or durability, it might be useful in future healthier tattooing. What interested me most is the possibility of using the creation of Maya Blue as a high school student project, which would get them focused on something for which they would need to conduct experiments and use characterizing instruments such as an SEM.

logoPaul Wagner of Minnesota Wire opened with an admission that he knows little about carbon nanowire but a lot about funding and selling carbon nanowire. I was hesitant because I like technical talks, but his talk was energizing and refreshing. He told stories about forming to connect those in the military with needs (generals with defense budget) to businesses that could provide solutions. He focuses on finding new needs, something that needs a quick solution, that’s not a commodity. Start with the money, whether it’s an organization that has budget or a funding source like SBIR, Title 3, or RIF (rapid innovation funding).

The qualities that he looks for in new hires are attitude, communication skills, creativity, determination, dedication, motivation, being well-rounded, and the ability to get along. He recommends that students trying to find a job do not go through HR but find a company that has money, perhaps from a new investment or an award from the government. Use press releases to find out about this. In the press release look for a quote from an executive. Figure out the email address for that executive, then contact with “I’m a student, I’m interested in your key technology, I’m trained or experienced in a related area, and could you answer this technical question?” Paul said executive almost certainly pass it off to to a subordinate will understand the technical question (executive probably did not write the quote attributed). That subordinate will answer your question and my even hire you. It’s much better than cold calling HR departments, and much better than contacting businesses that may not have money.

When Paul retires, which does not seem soon, he said he like to teach. He would make an excellent teacher.

The speakers have been skilled at using humor and stories to convey a great deal of technical and business information.