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Pioneers Park Nature Center bridges nature, nanoscience relationship in new exhibit

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A new exhibit at the Pioneers Park Nature Center shows visitors real-world applications for the study of nanoscience, including the production of solar cells, smartphone screens and moisture-wicking fabrics.

“This is very different from the exhibits we typically display,” said Nancy Furman, the Nature Center coordinator. “This is more scientific, but we had the opportunity to have the exhibit and we jumped on it.”

Furman said the Nature Center, located at 3201 S. Coddington Ave., has had more than 430 visitors since the exhibit opened on Nov. 19.

The display, sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, includes several posters, charts and hands-on activities.

One part of the exhibit shows how a piece of moisture-wicking fabric mimics the moisture-repelling qualities of a lotus leaf on a nanoscale. Another station displays how the iridescent qualities of butterfly wings are similar to the way the screens on different electronic gadgets appear to change colors as the angle of view changes.

“We’re always looking for other organizations to communicate about nanoscience with,” said Terese Janovec, assistant director and outreach coordinator for the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience. She said this is the first time the center has partnered with Pioneers Park. “(The Nature Center) was really excited about it. They’ve been really focused on nature exhibits because they are a nature center, and being able to connect that to science and technology was really exciting for them.”

Furman said that even though the exhibit is more technical than the exhibits they usually display, it provides unique information that she believes will interest a variety of visitors.

“It really shows how we are learning from nature to make different products in today’s world,” Furman said. “It shows how nanoscience is serving us in everyday life.”

Janovec agreed, saying she hopes visitors will see the applications nanoscience can have across different disciplines.

“We hope people will learn how nanotechnology takes the principles from nature and mimics it, and we can use that knowledge to develop new products,” Janovec said. “We can take the different natural properties and integrate them into real-life products.”

Furman said there has been a mix of reactions to the exhibit so far.

“A lot of people just say it’s really interesting,” she said. “Others say it’s hard to understand how small and minute the objects are that are depicted in the charts and pictures.”

Nanoscience is the study of atoms, molecules and other objects whose size is on the nanometer scale, with one nanometer equaling one-billionth of a meter. A chart at the nanoscience exhibit showed that one freckle is about one million nanometers and a human hand is about 100 million nanometers.

Furman said the Nature Center plans to add to the exhibit next week with a section about the nanoscale structure of snowflakes.

“We just wanted to wait for it to get a little bit colder,” she said. “It seemed a little funny to put up a snowflake exhibit when it was 70 degrees outside.”

The nanoscience exhibit will be displayed at the Nature Center through January.

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