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Generation Nano: Presented by the National Science Foundation and the National Nanotechnology Initiative

About the Competition

Stan Lee is a comic book writer, editor, publisher, actor, and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. Lee is best known for creating comic book superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men. The Stan Lee Foundation focuses on literacy, education and the arts. Lee's interest in how science inspires the powers of his superheroes underlies his support for NSF's GenNano competition.


You're invited to compete in Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes, a competition that asks high school students to submit an original idea for a unique superhero who uses nanotechnology to undertake a societal mission. Students will submit a short, written entry, as well as a short video and comic strip, that illustrates their superhero in action using nanotechnology. Winners will receive cash prizes.


The idea of the superhero armed with fantastical powers has mesmerized the world for nearly a century. The ability to fly without wings, climb buildings like a gecko or see through walls is popularly interpreted as magical, with no scientific foundation. 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 drug delivery, smart materials, molecular motors, advanced sensors 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 continue Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes! The competition asks high school students to choose a societal area to focus on and then design nanotechnology-enabled gear for an original superhero. Students can envision gear that is grounded in current research but not yet possible, allowing them to learn about the potentials and limitations of real-world nanotechnology.

Students will first identify one societal mission that they will address from a list of four and then submit an entry with three components: a written section, a short comic strip and a 90-second video. The entry should introduce their superhero and demonstrate how they incorporated nanotechnology research into their hero's story to address their chosen mission.

Societal missions (Categories)

Students must choose one of the four societal missions (or categories) listed below and describe how their superhero uses nanotechnology to make improvements in that area. Their use of nanotechnology could involve a wearables (e.g., armor, a suit, etc.), a gadget or tool, a method of transportation or something else, such as a medical treatment or physiological enhancement.

Missions to choose from:

Nanotechnology for Justice
These superheroes defend the defenseless against criminals, bullies, supervillains and others who wish to do harm.
Nanotechnology for Relief
These superheroes bring aid to victims of disasters, famine, drought and other situations where people are in need.
Nanotechnology for Health
These superheroes strive to heal the sick and injured.
Nanotechnology for the Environment
These superheroes take aim at clean energy, pollution control and a sustainable future.


Comic/superhero expert judge Marjorie Liu is an attorney and New York Times Bestselling author of over seventeen novels. Her comic book work includes Han Solo, Black Widow, X-23, and Astonishing X-Men, which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for its "outstanding representation of the LGBT Community".

Her current project is Monstress, a dark steampunk fantasy that Entertainment Weekly named the "Best New Original Series of 2015" and that was nominated for two Eisner awards for best new series and best writer. Liu has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, MTV, and has been profiled on NPR's All Things Considered, the New Yorker Radio Hour, the Hollywood Reporter, and USA Today. She is a frequent lecturer and guest speaker, and teaches a course on comic book writing at MIT. She lives in Cambridge, MA.

Nano expert judge Paul S. Weiss, Ph.D. holds a UC Presidential Chair and is a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science and engineering at UCLA. His interdisciplinary research group studies the ultimate limits of miniaturization, developing and applying new fabrication methods to pattern molecules and new microscopes to measure structure and function of individual molecular and supramolecular switches and motors.

The group also applies these tools to study brain and microbiome function and intercellular communication. Dr. Weiss is the founding and current editor-in-chief of ACS Nano, one of the leading journals in nanoscience and nanotechnology.


Nano expert judge Kevin M. Walsh, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of Research for the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering. He is also the Samuel T. Fife Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and the founding director of the UofL Micro / NanoTechnology Center and its associated 10,000 sq. ft. class 100 cleanroom facility. He has published over 150 technical papers in the areas of micro/nanotechnology, sensing technologies, semiconductors, microelectronics, and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems). His research group has received over $35M of external research funding from DOD, DOE, NSF, NASA, NIH and industry.

Prof. Walsh has 12 awarded patents and is the co-founder of four technical startup companies. He is on the editorial board of Sensor Letters, the Review Board for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory CNMS (Center for Nanophase Materials Science) User Program, and the RSL Advisory Board for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) which reports to the Executive Office of the President of the United States. In 2008, Dr. Walsh started the "KY nanoNET Initiative" which is an NSF-funded statewide network for the coordination of all micro- and nanotechnology efforts in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In 2014, he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors.

Comic/superhero expert judge Annie Wu is an American illustrator best known for her work in Black Canary for DC and Hawkeye for Marvel.
Generation Nano Competition
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230 USA

Follow the competition #GenNano

Who: High-school students — individuals or teams of two to three

What: A written entry, 2–3 page comic strip and 90-second video introducing the hero and story • Explains importance and potential impact of societal mission • Describes nanotechnology usage

When: Competition opens October 5, 2016; submissions due by 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2017. Public voting in April, 2017.

Where: Learn more and submit your entry online at

Why: To promote early interest in nanoscale science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

More Questions? Contact the Generation Nano team at