Informal Science Education
Funding Sources for ISE
Partnership Resources
Nanotechnology: A Brief Primer

Informal Science Education

Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net)
Collaborative association of informal science education organizations and research organizations sharing resources for nanoscale informal science education.
Website includes catalog of nanoscale informal science education resources, including information on getting involved in NanoDays; resources for research center – informal science education partnerships; and community and regional hub information.

Association of Science-Technology Centers  (ASTC)
Professional association of science centers and museums.

Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE)
Research and practice in informal science education.

Exhibit Files
Case studies and reviews of exhibits, for and by exhibit developers.
Online community and resource for ISE projects, research, and evaluation.

Visitor Studies Association  (VSA)
Professional association focused on research and evaluation of visitor experiences in informal learning settings.

Funding Sources for ISE

National Science Foundation (NSF)
This url takes you to an NSF-wide directory of current solicitations in all areas of research as well as in education.  Here you can find out what opportunities researchers at partnering universities might be pursuing, and what they have pursued or been granted in the past.  You can search by due dates, areas of research, educational focus, and other factors.  All NSF-funded research proposals must address the Broader Impacts Criterion, so any of them can include a museum partnership component.  Some “cross-cutting” program initiatives from research divisions with the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) administer collaborative proposal opportunities.

National Science Foundation Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL) in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR)
DRL funds most NSF programs targeted at informal science education and public communication of research.  This site includes current solicitations, examples of projects previously funded, rules, and requirements.

National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award Program (SEPA)
This program offered by the National Center for Research Resources focuses on partnerships between health researchers and formal and informal science educators.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
IMLS is now funding broader ISE initiatives.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
In recent years, NOAA has stepped up its interest in informal science education.

National Air and Space Administration (NASA)
NASA grantees can apply for E/PO (Education and Public Outreach) supplemental funding.

Howard Hughes Medical Institution (HHMI)
HHMI sometimes offers opportunities in informal science education and outreach.

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
The Sloan Foundation takes a special interest in formal and informal science education.

National Nanotechnology Initiative
This website offers listings of all funding programs supporting nano research in all federal science agencies.

Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers
This website provides an overview of NSF’s MRSEC program and over 25 MRSEC Centers at univerities across the nation.  MRSECs are large six-year, renewable Centers, which all have strong education and outreach components.  This site also has contact information for all MRSEC education outreach directors.

Partnership Resources

NISE Network
The Network seeks to facilitate formation of education outreach partnerships between nano research centers and science museums.

Community and Regional Hubs
Find members, organizations, local groups.

Research Center – Informal Science Education Initiative (RISE):
A collection of papers, presentations and resources with a focus on partnerships in nanoscale informal science education.

ASTC Connect Forum: Working with Scientists and Engineers
A collection of reports, papers, and moderated discussions by science museum leaders on working with scientists and engineers.  Visitors must obtain a log-in account and password from   The Sept/Oct 2007 issue of ASTC Dimensions contains eight articles devoted to collaborations between scientists and science museums.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology
This Center runs public engagement events, provides education and outreach resources, science communication resources, and a speakers service.

Space Science Institute (SSI)
Resources for Scientists in Education and Public Outreach (E/PO).  This is a collection of papers and presentations on partnerships with a focus on earth and space science outreach.


Association of Science-Technology Centers (2009). 2008 ASTC Sourcebook of Statistics & Analysis.

Alpert, C. L. (2009a).  Broadening and Deepening the Impact: A Theoretical Framework for Partnerships between Science Museums and STEM Research Centres. Social Epistemology, 23:3, 267 – 281.

Alpert, C.L. (2009b).  It’s a balloon. It’s a bridge. No, it’s NanoDays! Materials Today.  12:5, p.6.

Alpert, C.L., Levine, E., Barry, C., Isaacs, J., Fiorentino, A., Hollar, K., Thate, K. (2009). Tackling Science Communication with REU Students: A Formative Evaluation of a Collaborative Approach, in Materials Education, edited by M. Marinho Patterson, D. Dunham, E. Marshall, J. Nucci (Mater. Res. Soc. Symp. Proc. Vol. 1234), PP04-12. 2009. DOI: 10.1557/PROC-1233-PP04-12.

Alpert, C.L., (2007). Public Engagement with Nanoscale Science and Engineering, in Nanotechnology: Societal Implications II, eds. M. Roco, W. Bainbridge, National Science Foundation, Springer 2007.

Alpert, C.L., Isaacs, J., Barry, C. Miller, G., Busnaina, A. (2005).  Nano’s Big Bang: Transforming Engineering Education and Outreach, in Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conf. & Expo, June 2005.

Alpert, C.L. (2004).  Bridging the Gap: Interpreting Current Research in Museum Settings, in Creating Connections: Museums and the Public Understanding of Current Research, eds. D. Chittenden, G. Farmelo, B. Lewenstein, Altamira Press, pp. 235-256. 2004.

Bell, P., Lewenstein, B., Shouse, A., Feder, M. (2009). Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, Pursuits.  Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments.  Washington, D.C.: National Research Council, National Academies Press. 2009.

Chesebrough, D. E. (2010).  Putting Public Value to the Test.  ASTC Dimensions, Jan/Feb 2010.

Chesebrough, D. E. (1998).  Museum Partnerships: Insights from the Literature and Research. Museum News (Nov/Dec), American Association of Museums; and Insights from Partnership Research, 2004 (available from the author).

Chittenden, D., Farmelo, G., Lewenstein, B. (2004) Creating Connections: Museums and the Public Understanding of Current research. Altamira Press.

Crone, W. (2006).  Bringing Nano to the Public: A Collaboration Opportunity for Researchers and Museums. Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network.

Dierking, L.D., Falk, J.H., Holland, D. Fisher, S., Schatz, D. and Wilke, L. (1997). Collaboration: Critical Criteria for Success. Washington, D.C.: Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1997.

Dierking, L.D., and J.H. Falk.  (2009). Learning for Life: The Role of Free-Choice Learning in Science Education. In World of Science Education: North America, W.M. Roth and K. Tobin, eds. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishing, 2009.

Durant, J. (2004). Challenge of Presenting ‘Unfinished Science,’ in Creating Connections: Museums and the Public Understanding of Current Research, eds. D. Chittenden, G. Farmelo, B. Lewenstein, Altamira Press, pp. 235-256. 2004.

Falk, J.H., L.D. Dierking, and M. Storksdieck.  (2007).  Investigating Public Science Interest and Understanding: Evidence for the Importance of Free-Choice Learning. Public Understanding of Science, 2007.

Friedman, A. (2008). Framework for evaluating impact of informal science education projects. Report from a National Science Foundation workshop.

Kafafi, Z. (2008) Dear Colleague National Science Foundation 08-062.

Kulpinski, D. (2009). Partnerships for a Nation of Learners: Joining Forces, Creating Value. (IMLS-2009-RES-03). Institute of Museum and Library Services. Washington, D.C.

Levine, E.  (2009) Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing Research Experience for Undergraduates: Evaluation of the Summer 2009 Program.  Donahue Institute, University of Massachusetts, Hadley.

Miller, J. (2008). 2008 Science and Engineering Indicators, National Science Board. c.7.s.1.

Mattessich, P., Murray-Close, M. Monsey, B. (2001)  Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 2nd Edition.  Wilder Foundation.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan (2004). Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee of the Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council. December 2004.

National Research Council (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. Washington, D. C.: The National Academies Press.

National Science Foundation. (July 2007).  Broader Impacts Criterion: Representative Activities,

National Science Board (NSB). (2010). Science and Engineering Indicators 2010. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

National Science Board (NSB). (2008). Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, c.7.s.1.

Poliakoff, E. and Webb, T. (2007). What Factors Predict Scientists’ Intentions to Participate in Public Engagement of Science Activities? Science Communication 2007; 29; 242.

RK&A (Randi Korn & Associates, Inc) (2006). Volunteers Try Science (VolTS): Front-End Program Evaluation Executive Summary and Discussion. New York Hall of Science.

Reach Advisors / ASTC (2008). Preserve Past, Teach Present, Inspire Future: Presentation at ASTC Annual Meeting, Oct. 18, 2008.  James Chung and Susie Wilkening.

Roco, M.C. (2002). National  Nanotechnology Initiative and a Global Perspective.  PowerPoint presentation delivered March 19, 2002, at the NSF Symposium “Small Wonders.” Obtained from M.C. Roco by the author.

Rufo, C. (2010) By the Numbers: Highlights from the STC Statistics Survey Data. ASTC Dimensions Jan/Feb 2010, 13.

Steinberg, D. (2005) A New Type of Partnership for Science Outreach: Princeton Center for Complex Materials, Strange Matter and Liberty Science Center, Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings; 2005; 861E, pp 2.2. 1-6.

Tisdale, C. (2010)  Talk given at Portal to the Public Synthesis Meeting at the Pacific Science Center, September 27, 2010.

Westervelt, R. (2008) Nanoscience and the Public. ASTC Dimensions Jan/Feb 2008, p.8.

Wilkening, S., Chung, J. (2009). Making Choices: What Visitors Want to Know about Current Science.   ASTC Dimensions, Sept/Oct 2009.

Nanotechnology: a brief primer

Nanoscale science and engineering is a relatively new field of research, and science museums have only begun to interpret it in the last decade.  This section provides a brief backgrounder for informal science educators interested in learning more about it.

Nanotechnology emerged in the mid-1980’s, as researchers began to develop revolutionary new tools to image and manipulate atoms – the basic building blocks of matter. Earlier visionaries, such as the physicist Richard Feynman, had imagined being able to print an encyclopedia on the head of a pin, or the fashioning of tiny molecular machines that could perform useful work, but it was the invention of the Scanning Probe Microscope (SPM) by IBM researchers in the mid-1980’s that finally gave scientists “fingers” fine enough to begin to build tiny structures one atom at a time. Chemists and physicists previously had been able to work with groups of atoms and molecules, inferring what was happening at smaller scales from the changes in measurable bulk properties, but now it was as if they were allowed to zoom into a submicroscopic forest, blindfolded but free to feel their way among the individual trees, probing, recording, measuring – even transplanting and re-shaping the landscape to try out the effects of new designs. Like visitors to a strange and mysterious new world, they came into direct contact with forces described previously only by theory.  Here, the dual particle and wave-like nature of matter, the constant motion and “stickiness” of atoms, their patterns of bonding, interactions with light, charge and spin, trumped the more familiar everyday “macro” forces – those that govern the motion of baseballs and planets, like gravity, inertia, and linear momentum.

The opening of the nanoscale frontier inspired many new pathways of research.
If scientists could manipulate matter at so fine a level and harness these emergent nanoscale forces with precision, then they might be able to build new materials and devices that could meet critical engineering and technology challenges in startlingly effective new ways.

Could all the data in the Library of Congress be stored in a device the size of a sugar cube?  Could transistors shrink to the size of single molecules or even individual atoms?  Could soldiers be sent to battle wearing fatigues that shed bullets like rain drops? Could doctors target potent anti-cancer drugs exclusively to metastasizing tumor cells?   Could nanoscale particles accelerate clean-up of toxic spills? Researchers also began to discover strange new nanoscale forms of matter, like “buckyballs” and carbon nanotubes, which exhibit extraordinary levels and mixtures of properties like tensile strength and electrical conduction.  Could a single carbon nanotube serve as a transistor?  Could a lightweight ribbon of carbon nanotubes keep an orbiting space station tethered to earth?

The dreams for potential applications of nanotechnology went beyond the traditional engineering goals of stronger, faster, lighter, cheaper, cleaner, smaller, and more precise.  They seemed to open up new worlds of possibilities.

Public and private funding began to trickle into nanoscale research in the 1990’s, as a booming investment economy facilitated a venture capital gold rush into speculative new technologies.  In Europe, particularly Germany, and Japan, investments were being made as well.   An element of international competition began to emerge.  What international companies and which countries would control critical patents and licensing deals as the new frontier expanded?  What economic, and strategic advantages might accrue to winners of a nanotech patent race?

The National Nanotechnology Initiative

By the year 2001, when President Bill Clinton and Congress established the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative and plunked $442 million into a multi-agency R&D effort, estimates for the market value the new nanotechnologies would bring were pegged at $1 trillion over the following decade and a half, and they were also estimated to require the efforts of two million “nanotech workers.” [Roco 2002] By December 2003, when George Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, federal investment in nanotechnology R&D had more than doubled and the number of federal agencies investing in nanotechnology R&D had grown from 6 to 11. By August 2009, cumulative federal investment in nanotech R&D had reached $12 billion, with substantial amounts going into education and “workforce development.”

The NNI strategic plan called for a stepped approach, beginning with a focus on creating and studying nanoscale “building blocks,” then exploring how to engineer such building blocks into bulk materials that could make good use of their special properties, and then integrating these building blocks and materials into useful devices and working systems for potential breakthrough applications.  Along the way, nanomanufacturing processes would need to be developed that could make the synthesis of nanoscale structured materials and devices more cost-effective than the initial start-up approach of assembling atom-by-atom.  Researchers would explore layered and templated methods of synthesis, processes of “self-assembly” of atoms and molecules, and the “printing” of nanoscale switches and microfluidic channels.

With so many hopes and so much hype pinned on nanotechnology, science fiction writers, technology watchdogs, and citizen environmental groups began to take notice, speculating on what some of the darker implications of these emerging new nanotechnologies might be – their Frankenstein or Hal 2001 equivalents.  Could tiny self-replicating robots take over our bodies and goo up the environment, rendering it ultimately uninhabitable?  Could our galloping technological hubris lead down the road to pernicious unanticipated consequences, á la DDT, nuclear fallout, thalidomide, and runaway genetically modified crops?  What about the little guy?  Could nano-enabled ubiquitous, low-cost information storage and surveillance capacities spell an end to any semblance of privacy?  Could the new captains of nano-industry disrupt labor markets and put thousands out of work?

More down-to-earth worries also emerged. What safety data were being collected on the impact of nanoscale particles in our bodies?  Should nanotech workers be protected from inhaling nanoparticles that might lodge in lung tissue?  Did the small size of nanoparticles mean they might get past immune defenses and penetrate more deeply, right into living cells?  What could nanoparticles do to the environment, the water supply, aquatic creatures and the food chain? How could we even characterize the thousands of uniquely manufactured nanoparticles well enough to be able to generate safety data reliably applicable to more than one particular type?  Some environmental groups called for a complete moratorium on nanotechnology development until all these questions are resolved, although scores of nano-enhanced materials and products have already found their way to consumer and industrial markets.  (see the Wilson Center’s Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory)

The NNI’s response has been to step up funding of efforts to characterize nanoparticles, to study their potential toxicity in living systems and in the environment, to study manufacturing and workplace safety, and to involve the EPA, OSHA, industrial hygienists and toxicologists, lawyers, risk management experts, and regulatory agencies on the federal, state, and local level, to assess safety and determine appropriate regulatory regimes. NNI has also funded economists, science and technology historians and social scientists to study potential societal disruptions and to explore new mechanisms for informed public engagement in the assessment of risks and benefits.  These efforts are being pursued simultaneously in many states and some local municipalities.   Whether enough is being done to protect workers, consumers, and the environment from potential ill effects of new nanoscale materials is a subject of considerable ongoing controversy and debate.  Since most industrialized nations have launched their own nano R&D efforts, competing for patents and strategic advantage, the regulatory environment for the development of nanotechnology is an international issue.

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