Tuesday’s STEM Cafe explores nanotechnology

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT

Imagine a TV screen made of flexible material that you can roll up and put in your pocket.

Picture tiny robots coursing through veins to target cancers without damaging healthy cells.

This isn’t a remake of “The Fantastic Voyage,” it is the future of nanotechnology, a field of materials science that is transforming the way we live, work and play.

On Tuesday, Northern Illinois University STEM Outreach will present its next STEM Cafe, “Making Stuff Smaller,” an exploration into the world of nanotechnology and materials science. The discussion will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Cabana Charley’s, 1470 S. Peace Road in Sycamore.

STEM Cafes are fun, casual events that offer adults an opportunity to eat, drink and chat with scientists about the latest breakthroughs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). These events are free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from Cabana Charley’s.

“Making Stuff Smaller” will be hosted by Dr. Tao Xu, associate professor at NIU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Xu will make a brief presentation and discuss just what nanotechnology is, how it works and how it is paving the way toward new renewable energy technology. After the talk, he will lead the audience in a question and answer session.

According to Xu, when examining materials on the nanoscale (billionths of a meter), the compositions and properties of materials we think we know behave in interesting and unexpected ways.

“If you find a way to cut an American Eagle gold bullion into very tiny pieces,” Xu said, “as tiny as a tenth of a thousandth of a diameter of your hair, these tiny gold pieces are no longer gold in color. Instead, they will become red, green or even blue.”

Understanding materials on this intimate, microscopic level is helping scientists revolutionize the future of everything from energy to medical care to transportation.

“Making Stuff Smaller” is the second in STEM Cafe’s four-part series, Making Stuff. The events were inspired by NOVA’s “Making Stuff” television series, which has been airing on PBS.

On Nov. 13, STEM Cafe will continue its programming at Cabana Charley’s with “Making Stuff Cleaner.” Experts will share information on new technologies that increase efficiency and reduce energy waste.

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