Theme Summary: Nanotechnology

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Theme: Nanotechnology 

Topic: Cooling Computer chips (Estimated time 30min) 

Activity: Good for top end A level with interest in computer technology 

Researcher Dr Ben Robinson explains how he is developing thermoelectric material to both generate electricity from waste heat and cool down computer chips. There is a calculation of  the carbon footprint of a data centre. He introduces the idea of Moore’s Law to show we have reached the limit for transistor density on nanodevices more from thermal energy dissipation limitations. He describes his collaborations with other scientists. 

Video: Impact of Ben’s work on carbon footprint (2.10) 

How his devices save energy (2.40) 

Explains about high surface area density (1.32) 

Efficiency and cost comparison, wearable electronics generating electricity from thermal energy.(3.21) 

Scorecard/ 28 


Topic: Energy from the sun: KS4 and 5  (estimated time for average student 30min) 

Web Slide set: Energy from the sun 

Activity: GCSE: good for solar power and intro to photons, A level: good for energy level and how PV panels work 

This slide set introduces the student to various aspects of solar energy. The questions are carefully worded so the energy stories meet with the “stores and pathways” model. The principles of the solar panels are explained, and the photon model of light introduced. Some good summary questions test the students’ understanding. 

Then the conceptual difficulty steps up a gear when Dr Lefteris Danos explains his research on how to make solar panels more efficient by adding layers of different materials. 

There are summary questions to test the student understanding and a question on how much area is need for future solar farms in the UK. 

Video 1.38: explains photon harvesting 

Video 2.37: explains how the future of solar panels will improve efficiency. 

Scorecard is 35 

Great question for A level when introducing photons. 


Topic: Universal memory (Estimated time 20min) 

Activity: Good for top end 6th formers with interest in computer memory chips or in applying qunatum physics. 

Prof Manus Hayne starts by informing us of the large carbon footprint of the IT process and explains how this gets divided into computer use, the network and data centres. He uses his energy units as cups of tea! There follows a video experiment of time taken to boil a kettle giving the power of the kettle. The student is asked to work out the energy it takes for one cup of tea, then the energy used when watching a Netflix movie. 

Then continues to explain now memory in computers have different functions and how he has designed a Universal Memory chip which combines the advantages of each system. He does a brilliant description of resonant tunneling in quantum mechanics. 

Video: Universal memory a route to net zero carbon in computing (2.30) 

The different types of computer memory and the advantage of Universal Memory. (5.51) 

Scorecard/ 22 


Topic: LEDs play a huge role in a net zero economy (Estimated time 15min) 

Activity: Good for top GCSE and A level when working on spectra and quantum theory. 

The LED story is told showing how a huge amount of energy is saved but this comes at a price as the insect population do not like the “cold” light from LEDs. A company is making Night Tune Lamps which can change their spectrum to make them more insect friendly and better for preserving the night sky. 

The LED process is explained using the band gap theory and gives examples of different spectra. Smart LEDs are also discussed. 

Scorecard/ 41