A Nano Stained Glass Collaboration in Madison, WI

Vrylena Olney

Looking for ideas for NanoDays next year?  I recently spoke with Greta Zenner Petersen, the Director of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison MRSEC, about their collaboration to create a permanent art-and-science installation for the newly renovated Madison Children's Museum.  The story is not just a great example of a NanoDays activity, it's also an example of a local partnership between three very different organizations.

The MRSEC worked with staff from the Madison Children's Museum and all 800 students and teachers at the Aldo Leopold Elementary school to create a 5' round window decorated with nanoparticle stained "glass."  The window is now permanently installed in the arts wing of the new children's museum building.

Each Aldo Leopold Elementary class signed up for a 30-minute (kindergarten) or 60-minute (grades 1-5) time session to learn about nanotechnology and stained glass and to contribute to the window.  The activities took up a total of 6 - 7 days over a period of a month and involved the work of a number of people.

Troy Dassler, a first grade bilingual teacher at the school who has participated in the MRSEC's Research Experience for Teachers program, was the liaison with Leopold Elementary.  Troy pitched the idea to teachers, got the appropriate approvals from the school, and coordinated the classroom sign-up up.  He also handled school-related logistics such as reserving a classroom (so the students could rotate in to a single classroom rather than having MRSEC and Museum staff go to each classroom), helping with set-up and take down, and making sure staff had places to store materials.

Greta and Tracy Stefonek-Puccinelli, a Post-Doctoral Associate at the MRSEC, presented a modified version of the Nano Stained Glass program to each of the classes in the school.  Greta, Tracy, and one of their undergrad research assistants also created sheets of nanoparticle stained glass (actually hardened plastic with tiny particles of silver and gold in it) that students used to decorate the window.

Angela Johnson, the arts coordinator at the Madison Children's Museum, came up with the original idea and handled the arts education and museum side of the activities.  She got the necessary approvals from the Museum, gathered many of the art materials, and led the hands-on activities in the classroom.

Greta mentioned a few things they changed as they went along:

  • They added a rule that the student's contributions needed to be the size of their palm or smaller (or entire hand for kindergarteners).  During the first classes, some students created large nanoparticle stained glass pieces, which would not have left enough space on the window for everyone to contribute.
  • They asked students to sketch their idea on paper first, to encourage them to plan their window contribution before using the nanoparticle stained glass.
  • Once students finished their window contribution, they could make a take-away card containing a small piece of nanoparticle stained glass.  Originally, there was an option to make a sun-catcher and a take-away card, but students who took longer to create their window contribution were disappointed that they didn't have time to make the sun-catcher.  Greta and Tracy prepared some pre-made take-away cards, and had extra coloring sheets for students who finished the take-away card early.

You can download the presentations Greta, Tracy, and Angela used for the classes, as well as the class sign-up sheet and the invitation to a Collaborator's Night event at the Museum, at the bottom of this blog post.  For more information about the activity, you can also see the NISE Net's Nano Stained Glass cart or classroom activities.

Specific questions or want to learn more?  Get in touch with Greta directly.