Building Capacity for Nano Education and Outreach through Partnerships with Science Museums: Overview and Case Study

By Carol Lynn Alpert1, National Center for Learning & Teaching in Nanoscale Science & Engineering2

1. Museum of Science, Boston, MA 2. Northwestern University

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The Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network seeks to foster local partnerships between research centers and informal science education institutions, in order to increase their capacity to work together to engage public and K-12 audiences in learning and thinking about nanoscale science and engineering, potential applications and impacts.

For nanoscale science & engineering, environmental health & safety, and societal implications researchers, these partnerships often fall within the realm of NSF “broader impacts” efforts and help the researchers engage with local communities, while for science museums and media producers, these partnerships provide expertise, resources, and content for their current science and technology education initiatives.

While new curricula slowly winds its way through the adoption process in thousands of local school districts, science museums and saavy media producers can provide more timely science and engineering enrichment opportunities beyond the classroom, and have more freedom to explore innovative approaches. Science museums in particular can and do play a big role in this country in increasing science literacy, fostering citizen engagement, motivating youth, and in professional development and training for K-12 educators. Recent surveys conducted for the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) indicate that about three of five American adults visit an informal science institution in the past year and most of them brought children. Another study (Bayer, 2007) noted that professional scientists and engineers often stress the role of their informal STEM experiences in motivating them to pursue STEM careers. As a case in point, my home institution, the Museum of Science in Boston, is the biggest cultural attraction in New England, with some 1.5 million annual visitors.

Since 2001, the Museum of Science has worked with two Boston-area, NSF-funded Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers to produce a very large and diverse portfolio of public engagement experiences, media, and professional development workshops for educators, journalists, and early-career research centers. The partners have produced an extensive portfolio of exhibits, videos, multimedia, live daily museum presentations, guest researcher events, forums, live performances, cable news stories, podcasts, science communication workshops for early career researchers and education symposia. Audience reach is literally in the hundreds of thousands. The partnerships help educators and their audiences become more familiar with nanoscale research and help researchers develop new skills in engaging broad audiences.

This session will present the background and theory behind these collaborations and activities, provide examples, and address evaluative aspects. We will also touch briefly on a range of other examples of nanoscale research center – informal science education institutional collaborations, now linked and sharing resources through the NISE Network. We will also address what these organizations have learned about what makes these kinds of partnerships most effective and how the NISE Network can provide resources and expertise to assist in collaborative efforts. NanoDays 2009 is scheduled for March 28 – April 5, and it is an excellent opportunity around which to kickstart a productive new education and outreach collaboration.


Carol Lynn Alpert

Carol Lynn Alpert serves as director of strategic projects at the Museum of Science, Boston; Co-PI for the NISE Net; director of informal science education for the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing; and director of public engagement for the Harvard-based Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.

Carol Lynn Alpert joined the staff at the Museum of Science, Boston in 1999 to order to lead development of the Current Science & Technology Center, an award-winning live stage, exhibit, cablecasting and multimedia production facility designed to engage public audiences with current research. She now leads the Museum's Strategic Projects department, which fosters education outreach partnerships with research centers and produces live programming, exhibits, media, forums, and professional development workshops. Alpert also heads up the Research Center – Informal Science Education (RISE) partnership initiative for the NISE Network, and the NISE Network Media group, and has been working in the area of nanoscale informal science education since 2001, beginning with a strategic partnership with the Harvard-based Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center. Alpert is also active in the NIH NCRR Science Education Partnership Awards program, an advisor for Dragonfly TV Nano, and an advisor for the Portal to the Public initiative, and an appointed member of the City of Cambridge Nanomaterials Advisory Committee. Alpert has published articles about nano informal science education and public engagement in Materials Today, ASTC Dimensions, and several conference proceedings. She is the director of the useum’s Nanotech Symposium for Educators and Journalists, writer and director of the Museum’s popular Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show, and producer of the new six-DVD educational video series, Talking Nano, available at

Before coming to the Museum of Science, Alpert was a non-fiction book editor and developed and produced documentaries for the NOVA Science Unit, Frontline, the American Experience, Scientific American Frontiers, War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, The Nobel Legacy, and the American Museum of Natural History. She earned her BA Magna Cum Laude in History of Science department at Harvard University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, AAAS, ASTC, and MRS.

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  • Carol Lynn Alpert, National Center for Learning & Teaching in Nanoscale Science & Engineering (2009), "Building Capacity for Nano Education and Outreach through Partnerships with Science Museums: Overview and Case Study,"

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Northwestern University, Evanston, IL