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News Release 07-034

Getting a Feel for the Nano World

New models help introduce the blind to careers in nanoscale science and engineering

"NanoBucky" is a 3-D nanoscale model made from tiny, carbon nanofiber "hairs."

"NanoBucky" is a 3-D nanoscale model made from tiny, carbon nanofiber "hairs."

March 27, 2007

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

When it comes to research at the nanoscale, vision is not necessarily an advantage. The subjects are so small, no one can see them. To encourage people with visual impairments to pursue fields in nanotechnology, educators have developed a way to craft accurate, detailed and touch-friendly models of nanoscale objects like carbon nanofibers, allowing the students to "see" those objects for the first time.

While students have learned from abstract models of chemical structures for decades, the new technique creates 3-D versions of objects as they actually are.

Developed by educators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), the models are about the size of a textbook and are formed using rapid prototyping, a process that "prints" 3-D objects. Each model is a scaled-up replica of tweaked data from a scanning electron microscope. The creators hope they will soon be able to apply the same process to data from other instruments, including the patterns of atoms revealed by atomic force microscopes.

The approach was conceived by Andrew Greenberg, education and outreach coordinator for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center on Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the Nanoscale at UW-Madison and for the university's Institute for Chemical Education. He thought of the idea during a visit to the Indiana School for the Blind, which uses 3-D models of chemical structures in the classroom.

Greenberg partnered with two collaborators from the university's Center for Biology Education: undergraduate biochemistry student Mohammed Farhoud, who is skilled with the rapid-prototyping equipment, and the center director, David Nelson.

On March 27, 2007, Greenberg and Farhoud presented their novel approach at the 233rd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The effort was supported by NSF award 0425880 and 0411278.

Additional information is available in the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release at:


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, email:
Madeline Fisher, University of Wisconsin-Madison, (608) 890-0465, email:

Program Contacts
Charles D. Pibel, NSF, (703) 292-4971, email:
Robert M. Wellek, NSF, (703) 292-8370, email:
Thomas P. Rieker, NSF, (703) 292-4914, email:

Principal Investigators
Andrew Greenberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, (608) 890-1534, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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