Nanotechnology and the NAE Grand Challenge Reverse Engineer the Brain

By Edward Davis1, Virginia Davis1, Joni Lakin1

1. Auburn University

Published on


This group of materials is designed to provide a framework to teach students in an introductory engineering course basic nanotechnology concepts. The materials use the NAE grand challenge “Reverse Engineering the Brain” to underpin the need and potential for nanotechnology to address society’s needs. In addition, motivation for students to persist in engineering is provided by introduction to the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering capitalizing on student’s altruistic tendencies.

The entire bundle can be downloaded by clicking the link in the upper right or components can be individually downloaded by visiting the Supporting Docs tab.

Materials Provided:

  1. PowerPoint slide packs (can be used individually or as a group)
  2. Instructions for in class and lab activities
  3. Surveys and evaluation tools

Suggested order for implementation:

  1. Utilize “Engineering Attitudes Survey pretest” early in semester to gauge students interest in nanotechnology, engineering, and the grand challenges. If the survey is given immediately prior to utilizing the materials in class include the “Brain Module Evaluation – Pre Test” Otherwise use this pre test just prior to the presentation of the module to the class.
  2. Start the class using the “Introduction to Nanotechnology” and/or the “Motivation to become an Engineer” slides.
  3. Engage in the “What is the Challenge Class activity.” Use the results to discuss the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering in general and transition to the specific challenge “Reverse Engineering the Brain” by using the “Reverse Engineering the Brain” slides.
  4. In a lab setting conduct the “Sensory Homunculus” and the “Brain mapping” activities. Note there are student materials for recording data provided at the end of the “Reverse Engineering the Brain” slide pack.
  5. Conclude the module by administering the “Brain Module Evaluation – Post Test.” You can also administer the “Engineering Attitudes Survey” at the same time or wait until later if you are evaluating the course as a whole.



Sponsored by

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant Number 1446060. Any opinions, finding, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Edward W. Davis, P.K. Raju, and Virginia A. Davis, Nanotechnology Solutions to Engineering Grand Challenges, AAAS EnFUSE Symposium, Washington, DC, April 27-29, 2016. (PDF download)

Edward W. Davis, Joni M Lakin, P.K. Raju, and Virginia A. Davis, NUE: The Freshman Experience and Nanotechnology Solutions to Engineering Grand Challenges, ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, New Orleans, LA, June 26-29, 2016.

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Edward Davis, Virginia Davis, Joni Lakin (2017), "Nanotechnology and the NAE Grand Challenge Reverse Engineer the Brain,"

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