National Science Foundation: Where Discoveries Begin

About the Contest

You are invited to compete in "Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes," a competition that asks individual high school students to submit an original idea for a superhero, using modern nanotechnology research to inspire unique "gear" for their hero. Students will submit a short written entry, as well as a short video or comic, that illustrates their superhero's nanotechnology-enabled gear. Winners will receive cash prizes and the opportunity to showcase their creation at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

The idea of the superhero armed with their fantastical powers has served to mesmerize the world for nearly a century. The ability to fly, cling to walls with bare hands, and see with X-ray vision is popularly interpreted as a supposition based on no solid foundation. Often, superhero abilities appear magical rather than being grounded in science and technology. As we make advances in nanotechnology and materials research, we're discovering that superhero powers may not be that farfetched. Through nanotechnology applications like targeted drugs, self-assembled nanodevices, molecular motors, graphene in electrical supercapacitors, and artificial red blood cells, we may not have to wait until that fateful day we're bitten by a radioactive spider in order to become superhuman!

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) are excited to introduce "Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes!" This competition asks high school students to design a costume, gadget, vehicle or other gear for an original superhero that uses technology extrapolated from current nanotechnology research. This competition will help students learn about the potential and limitations of real world nanotechnology. Students will submit a written entry explaining their superhero and how they have incorporated nanotechnology research into their hero's gear, as well as either a short comic strip or video introducing the superhero.


cartoon showing 2 superheroes


Who: High-school students, individuals.

What: A written entry explaining the superhero and nanotechnology-driven gear, with particular emphasis on the research behind the nanotechnology, and a 90-second video or one page comic strip introducing the superhero and the student's nanotechnology-enabled gear.

When: Competition opens late November, 2015; submissions due by midnight, February 2, 2016, Eastern Standard Time. Finalist round presentation and judging occurs April 16-17, 2016 in Washington, D.C, at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival. Public online voting for the People's Choice Award April 7-16, 2016.

Where: The competition's online platform,, where you can learn more about the challenge, access resources, register and submit your written entry and comic or 90-second video. Finalist round competitors' attendance and presentation is required at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., April 16-17, 2016.

Why: To promote early interest in STEM and nanotechnology