Academic journal article Science Scope


Academic journal article Science Scope


Article excerpt

Byline: Melissa A. Hemling, Lauren M. Sammel, Greta Zenner, Amy C. Payne, and Wendy C. Crone

Many traditional classroom science and technology activities often ask students to complete prepackaged labs that ensure that everyone arrives at the same "scientifically accurate" solution or theory, which ignores the important problem-solving and creative aspects of scientific research and technological design. Students rarely have the opportunity to delve into the unknown and brainstorm solutions to cutting-edge, unsolved science problems that affect thousands of people. To counter this trend, we developed an activity that

exposes students to issues and problems surrounding cancer treatment;

asks students to brainstorm possible treatment methods;

introduces students to cutting-edge technology; and

helps students to see the connection between a material's particle size and its bulk properties.

In the activity, students work in research teams to explore different techniques for cancer drug delivery. In the first part of the activity, we present students with a real-life research problem: Because most cancer drugs kill good cells in addition to cancer cells, a treatment can often make patients get even sicker. As a result, scientists and doctors are faced with the challenge of inventing a way to treat cancer without the negative side effects. The second part of the activity involves introducing students to nanotechnology-technology at the scale of atoms-and explaining that ferrofluids, a kind of magnetic nanomaterial, may make a new method of treatment possible in the near future. Since 1960, scientists have conducted research on the possibility of using ferrofluids as part of a drug delivery system that could transport medicine to a specific location in the body (Berry 2005; Freeman, Arrott, and Watson 1960; Pankhurst et al. 2003). Background materials about nanotechnology for teachers, as well as several activities that teachers can use to introduce the topic to middle school students, are available on our websites (UW IPSE 2004; UW MRSEC IEG 2005).

With their box of possible tools, including a vial of ferrofluid, empty inhaler cartridges, and several other current drug-delivery methods, students work together to invent a drug-delivery system that they think will be safe and effective. We have found that students enjoy this activity a great deal because they get to behave like scientists: They work in groups, think creatively, critique each other, and address real research issues.

Magnetic liqids? A background to ferrofluid

Created by NASA scientists nearly 30 years ago for use in space, ferrofluids are now found in many everyday objects, including loudspeakers, computer hard drives, CD-ROM drives, and rotary seals. Ferrofluids hold the promise of many new and exciting technologies, and scientists are currently conducting research that uses these magnetic materials to enable site-specific delivery of cancer drugs in cancer patients.

Ferrofluids consist of tiny magnetic particles that are on the nanoscale-a million times smaller than a millimeter. Magnetite (Fe3O4) is the most common composition used to make a ferrofluid, but other magnetic particles also work. Each magnetic nanoparticle is coated with a surfactant, or soaplike substance, to prevent the iron oxide particles from clustering together. Thus, ferrofluids are solids with unique liquidlike properties (Berger et al. 1999; Ellis et al. 1993). When you hold a magnet close to a ferrofluid, the material tries to follow the magnetic field lines and produces three-dimensional spikes (Figure 1).

Currently, researchers are developing techniques for selectively delivering drug molecules to a diseased site, without concurrently increasing the drug's concentration in healthy tissue. Using ferrofluids is one possible technique. Scientists have formulated ferrofluids and cancer drugs into pharmacologically stable substances and injected those substances into the bloodstream of cancer patients. …

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