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Future City Competition saves cities with nanotechnology

Nanowerk brings to our attention the Future City Competition, using SimCity software and sponsored by National Engineers Week, which this year is focused on nanotechnology and how to use it to prevent tomorrow’s urban disasters:

Future City Students Confront Urban Disasters and Engineer Hope with Nanotechnology

Seventh- and eighth-graders in the annual National Engineers Week Future City Competition™ normally create cities with utopia in mind. This year, they’re also confronting the world’s worst urban disasters and there’s no mistaking them for utopia…

Working in teams with a teacher and volunteer engineer mentor, they create their cities using the SimCity 3000™ videogame donated by Electronic Arts, Inc. of Redwood City, California. They also write a city abstract and an essay on using engineering to solve an important social need – this year’s theme asks students to describe how nanotechnology will monitor their city’s structures and systems to keep its infrastructure healthy…

At Kutztown Area Middle School in Pennsylvania, students are wrestling with the difficulties of rebuilding Gaza, a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Relying on months of research, the Future City team is looking far beyond the hostilities by creating a way to desalinate seawater for the impoverished region using cutting edge nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology involves the creation of materials, devices and systems through manipulating matter less than 100 nanometers in length. A nanometer is one-millionth of a millimeter, so engineers and scientists in nanotechnology work with items smaller than molecules, essentially atoms…

“We’re really optimistic,” says Stephanie Houser, an 8th-grade member of the [Orchard Park] team. “Nanotechnology is so small it can filter arsenic from water and it can absorb air pollution, too”…

“The Minneapolis freeway bridge collapse in August is an example of how we could better monitor our infrastructures using nanotechnology sensors and control systems,” explains CDR Mark Bellis, a civil engineer who serves as commanding officer of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-27, also known as the Seabees, and volunteers as mentor to the Orchard Park team…

Audrey Grossen, a 7th-grader at St. Philip Neri School in Midwest City, Oklahoma, is already developing a grasp of the importance of nanotechnology. “It’s going to be a big part of our lives,” she says. “It’s on the scale of atoms and molecules so it’s pretty much down to the bone.” Her teammate, Hannah Govette, says that their city’s design uses “dendritic polymers, hexagonal carbon tubes and other nanotechnologies” to filter drinking water. Hannah is 13.

Getting to the point where she can discuss such concepts was a lot of work, she admits, but worth it. “I’m busier and I get to bed later,” she says of the after-school hours and weekends spent on Future City, “but I’m completely dedicated 100 percent.” She adds, “It’s great that there’s a project like this that challenges us to the limit and helps us find a career. I’m considering engineering, especially since Future City, and now with learning about nanotechnology, I’d like to pursue that.”

You do that, Hannah! We’re all rooting for you and all of the next generation of nanotechnologists now on their way up. We look forward to their moving far beyond today’s nanomaterials and nanodevices to the nanotech molecular nanosystems of tomorrow. —Christine

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