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Rice's Year of Nanotechnology Celebration Puts Focus on Education

Rice University's Nobel Prize-winning researchers dreamed of solving the world's problems, but that can only happen if new generations learn to carry on their work. That's a prime reason the tier-one university is celebrating the Year of Nano in 2010, the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the carbon 60 atom - aka the buckminsterfullerene, or buckyball.

Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology will use proceeds from this year's series of events to bolster programs that train not only Rice students but also secondary school students - and their teachers - about nanotechnology. The institute's work is in step with Rice's Vision for the Second Century, which calls for the university to reach beyond the hedges and contribute to the community, nation and world.

The National Science Foundation recently funded a Smalley initiative to continue training as many as 35 Houston-area high school science teachers a year in the wonders of nanotechnology. An evening course, Nanotechnology for Teachers, has been extended for three years. The course is administered by Vicki Colvin, Rice's Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor of Chemistry and of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and taught by John Hutchinson, professor of chemistry, and Carolyn Nichol, lecturer in chemistry and associate director for education at Rice's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology.

The institute, in collaboration with Houston Technology Center, has hosted a number of short courses over the past nine months focusing on various aspects of nanotechnology. Next semester, a more intense set of courses will be offered through Rice's Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. These nine courses will focus on nanotechnology as it applies to energy, materials, biomedicine, the environment, entrepreneurship and other areas.

All these events fit nicely with Rice's Centennial Celebration, which is counting down to the university's 100th anniversary in 2012. Each year of the celebration has a theme; for 2010, it's "Advancing Education."

"The 25th anniversary of the buckyball is an important milestone in Rice's almost 100 years," said Centennial Director Kathleen Boyd Fossi. "Rice alone has such a lengthy history in nanotechnology. The Smalley Institute is doing a smashing job of continuing the tradition of 'Advancing Education' at Rice."

The late Rick Smalley, who was University Professor and the Gene and Norman Hackerman Chair of Chemistry at Rice, believed nanotechnology has the potential to solve the world's energy woes, and that would lead to dramatic advances in feeding the hungry and repairing the environment. Smalley shared his Nobel victory for the discovery of the buckyball with Robert Curl, Rice's University Professor Emeritus and Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences, and Sir Harold Kroto, then of the University of Sussex and now of Florida State University.

In Smalley's honor, Rice's Space Science Building, where the buckyball was discovered, has been named a National Historical Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society. A commemorative bronze plaque will be displayed outside Room 337, not far from where the discovery was made.

Wade Adams, Smalley Institute director, hopes to put that classroom to good use in building a new educational program around Smalley's beliefs. "The buckyball is a strange yet beautiful molecule that, 25 years after its discovery, still has a 'wow' effect on children of all ages," Adams said. "Our expanded program will use the ‘wow' to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to explore nanospace, as Smalley and I were inspired to be scientists as we explored outer space."

The Year of Nano's high point comes in October, when Rice hosts a major symposium on nanotechnology's past, present and future. That event, Oct. 11-13, will coincide with the 10-10-10 Gala and the Oct. 11 Bucky ‘Ball,' an on-campus celebration of all things nano. The Smalley Institute will have a nano-themed vehicle in Houston's famous Art Car Parade in May, and the institute's Tuna Fest, one of the most popular campus gatherings of the year, will return this summer.

Lockheed Martin is the primary sponsor of the Year of Nano events. The company's involvement is a natural fit for Rice, Adams said. The institutions already partner in the Lockheed Martin Advanced Nanotechnology Center of Excellence at Rice, aka LANCER, through which researchers in academia tackle the high-tech industry's toughest problems.

For information about the Year of Nano, the symposium and associated events, visit

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