Nano lab gone astray
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Nano lab gone astray

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In the midst of sharks, fish and children at the experimental museum Universeum in Gothenburg, researchers from Chalmers are conducting advanced nano research. The aim is to demonstrate exactly how modern laboratory work takes place.

Sitting in a glass cage a number of focused young men and women can be seen peering into a microscope. Outside, school classes are running around enthusiastically. In a short while they will have the opportunity to speak to the researchers inside the glass walls.
Standing a little to the side is Joakim Rosenlöw. He is studying biotechnology at Chalmers and has just completed his BSc project, which dealt with colouring of DNA, at the nano lab at Universeum.
“It was great fun to get out and work among people and explain about nano research. Normally that wouldn’t be part of our remit. Research is quite isolated from the rest of the world.”  Joakim Rosenlöw says that the work in the lab was interrupted on numerous occasions before slides were ready. He and his colleagues used the breaks to talk to visitors.
“It was really rewarding. It is a challenge to explain difficult associations in a way that is easy to comprehend. It really is important to have a firm understanding of what you’re doing,” he says.
“Visitors to the museum were mainly interested in finding out what nanotechnology actually is. To provide an answer we conducted a number of pedagogical experiments alongside our own front-end research to demonstrate the nature of what we were doing. It was really popular.”
Positive reactions all round
The nano lab at Universeum is part of an EU project with participants from Gothenburg, Milan, Antwerp, Naples, Tartu and Munich. The aim is to disseminate knowledge about nano research.
In Gothenburg, Munich and Milan, research groups have set up public nanolabs to demonstrate how research takes place in practice – and the research is genuine, front-line research and not just pedagogical demonstrations.
Hans-Christian Becker is project leader for the nanolab at Universeum and a researcher in physical chemistry at Chalmers. He has worked for many hours in the glass cage laboratory.
“I thought it would be a little awkward. There’s no denying that it’s quite a strange working environment. It’s not every day that you sit there, inside a glass cage, conducting research – almost on public display. But it worked out really well. And you really do get things done.”
He says that it was interesting and enjoyable to meet lots of different people and to tell them about nano research.
“We had an incredible assortment of visitors – from retired researchers to preschool children. The feeling is that this project has been an excellent means of putting across what nano research is all about.”
The laboratory at Universeum will remain during the summer. The EU project will then come to an end.
“Universeum feels that the laboratory has worked really well and we will see what the continuation will be. I hope that this kind of collaboration between Chalmers and Universeum can be maintained,” states Hans-Christian Becker.
Molecular Lego
The research that has been conducted at the nanolab has dealt mainly with nanoconstruction of synthetic DNA – basic research that involves building extremely small constructions using DNA molecules.
“In somewhat simplified terms it could be described as molecular Lego. Synthetic DNA is a molecule that is a highly practical building material as it can relatively easily create molecules in different shapes. These can then be joined in various ways.”
The aim of the research is to be able to build extremely small machines and items of equipment.
“This is genuine basic research. Up to now we have been involved in learning about the ‘rules’ for constructions of this kind. It is a case of learning to understand the actual building components, how they are joined and how they behave once they are together. We still have a great deal to learn.” Hans-Christian Becker points out that this particular kind of research is ideally suited to public contexts.
“This really is advanced research although at the same time the majority of people can understand what we are doing. We are quite simply learning how to build things on the nano level.

TEXT: Mattias Hagberg