New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Experiments with Fluorescent Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles: A Teaching Course Design for Upper Secondary Chemistry Class

Timm Wilke, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Department of Chemistry Education (Germany)

Nicolai Ter Horst, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Department of Chemistry Education (Germany)

Thomas Waitz, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Department of Chemistry Education (Germany)


Nanotechnology is considered one of the key technologies of the 21st century and a broad variety of high-performance functional materials are already part of our everyday life. Due to its versatile applications, zinc oxide nanoparticles are currently subject of intensive research in various scientific domains[1,2], which is also reflected by the large number of publications on the subject which has increased by a factor of 2000 since 1990. In addition, this nanomaterial is non poisonous, cheap and stable, thus rendering it an ideal candidate for school chemistry education.

Zinc oxide nanoparticles can be obtained via a facile precipitation reaction and the products exhibit interesting properties, such as a bright fluorescence when exposed to UV light. This phenomenon allows a simple particle size characterization since it only occurs within a particle diameter range of 2 – 8 nanometers.[3] Investigations on the photocatalytic activity of zinc oxide nanoparticles as well as the particle’s diffusion in a human cell model system offer further learning opportunities. All three of the mentioned processes can subsequently be explained by means of simplified models and general chemistry principals. Finally, many connections to everyday life can be drawn since zinc oxide nanoparticles are applied in various domains, such as UV protection (sunscreen), cell phone displays, gas sensors and solar collectors.

In this contribution, a chemistry class project on zinc oxide nanoparticles and nanotechnology in our day-to-day lives will be presented. The developed teaching unit comprises (1) an introductory seminar during which the participants focus on the general characteristics of nanomaterials (e.g. spatial dimensions, production, applications, surface-to-volume-ratio) with special regard to known misconceptions revealed in previous studies[4], (2) a laboratory course including several experiments with zinc oxide nanoparticles, such as a simple synthesis and photocatalytic activity as well as (3) teaching materials on the use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in various fields that aim at promoting a reflected assessment of existing applications and the students’ critical capacity towards new technologies in general.

This educational project has already been carried out in different chemistry classes and selected results of the respective evaluation will be shown following its presentation.


[1] M. Meyer, O. Persson (1998), Scientometrics 42.2, 195-205. [2] J. Nayak, S. N. Sahu, S. Nozaki (2006) in Nano-Scaled Materials: From Science to Technology (Eds: S. N. Nahu, R. K. Choudhury, P. Jena, 303-311. [3] H. Althues (2007), Dissertation, Technische Universität Dresden. [4] T. Wilke, T. Waitz (2012) in New Perspectives in Science Education: Conference Proceedings (Eds: Pixel), University Press, 105-109.

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