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Be a Scanning Probe Microscope

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(Full teacher resource documents are included in the PDF)

Lesson Focus
Lesson focuses on how engineers have developed and use special tools that can observe the landscape of materials when they are working at the nano scale.  Students learn about Scanning Probe Microscopes (SPM) and then work in teams using a pencil to explore and identify the shape of objects they cannot see, just as the SPM does at the nano level.  They draw what their mind "sees" on paper, compare their results with other student teams, and share observations with their class.

Lesson Synopsis
The "Be a Scanning Probe Microscope" lesson explores how these microscopes gauge the surface of materials at the nano level.  Students work in teams to learn about SPMs, and then use a pencil to visually feel the shape of objects they cannot see.  Based on the sense of touch through the pencil, students mimic the function of the SPM.  They draw what their mind "saw" and compare their results with other student teams, reflect on the experience, and share observations with the class.

Age Levels:   8-14


  • Learn about nanotechnology.
  • Learn about scanning probe microscopes.
  • Learn how engineering can help solve society's challenges.
  • Learn about teamwork and problem solving

Anticipated Learner Outcomes
As a result of this activity, students should develop an understanding of:

  • nanostructures
  • scanning probe microscopes
  • teamwork

Lesson Activities
Students explore how equipment developed by engineers allows us to "see" at the nanoscale.  Students mimic the functionality of a scanning probe microscope by exploring the surface of several objects using a pencil as a probe while their eyes are closed.  They visualize what is felt through the pencil sensor, draw the object on paper, share their observations with the class, and reflect on the experience.


  • Teacher Resource Documents (attached)
  • Student Resource Sheet (attached)
  • Student Worksheets (attached)

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks
Curriculum alignment sheet is included in the