Photo credit: DonkeyHotey Put yourself back in 1993. Could you have predicted the success of the web, tablets and smartphones, privatized space travel, the rise of terrorism, or the myriad of small changes that impact how you live today?
Seventeen years ago as a new superintendent I was invited to Microsoft to learn about 1:1 programs in Australia. The architect of those programs, Bruce Dixon, told a compelling story of student engagement in transformed learning environments.
"Can you recall a time when you were so engaged in learning that you became unaware of your surroundings, that each step of the process energized you to pursue your goal further, and the learning became its own reward?
Recently, I was working with a gathering of administrators from my county, contemplating the puzzle of student engagement. Most of the small groups in the room organized their exploration around the premise that on-task behavior is a necessary but insufficient step toward engagement. The T-charts they created focused on how an administrator observing a class might recognize subtle differences."
A study in which chemical compounds are prompted to self-form into crystals could be a step toward creating self-repairing smartphone screens, experts say, or even body armor.
Showing that microscopic particles can be made to come together or break apart on their own "opens a new area for design and production of novel and moving structures," wrote the study authors, a team of physicists and chemists from New York University and Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
The researchers said they were inspired by the way flocks of birds and schools of fish are able to move as if they are a single living organism. The team wanted to see if they could duplicate — and control — that collective motion using non-living objects.
The objects they used were made of simple chemicals including sodium, iron, chloride, oxygen and hydrogen. Roughly the size of a single bacterium, they included a piece of the mineral hematite that jutted out, like the front of a car.
The researchers placed hundreds of these particles into a drop of a liquid solution on a glass slide. One of the ingredients in the solution was hydrogen peroxide, which is like fuel to a piece of hematite when it's exposed to blue-violet light.
Without the specialized light, the particles pretty much vibrated in place like so many tiny idling engines. When the scientists turned on the light, the hydrogen peroxide and hematite began a chemical reaction that propelled the particles forward.
The scientists watched under a microscope as, at first, the particles moved about at random. Then, about 25 seconds into the chaos, the limited space and directionless driving produced a traffic jam of particles, said study leader Jeremie Palacci, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU.
The jammed particles forced themselves against each other in the pattern of a crystal, each dot surrounded by six others in a hexagonal shape. When they reached a certain size, some of the particles on the edge broke off and grew into other crystals, which slowly moved about. When the blue-violet light was switched off, it took about 10 seconds for the crystals to dissolve.
In additional tests, the researchers induced a magnetic field in the liquid to see if they could steer the crystals in a particular way. They found that the iron in the particles was drawn toward the magnetic field, making it possible to control the crystals' movement.
Since the crystals are able to sense changes in their environment and move accordingly, they are alive in a fundamental way, the researchers said.
"They're flocking," just like birds, said Paul Chaikin, a coauthor of the study and an NYU physicist.
Creating materials that can respond to conditions around them is a long-held goal of scientists and engineers working in the field of active materials, said Aparna Baskaran, a physicist at Brandeis who wasn't involved in the study.
One of the major assumptions in design education and pedagogy is that students have to “make” or “produce” objects, from for example, web pages to bicycles to books in order to prove that they have learned to become designers.
One of the questions that I'm asked time and time again is, "How can teachers use technology to motivate our students?" And if you've spent any time reading Radical posts, you probably know my answer already: Technology DOESN'T motivate students....
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