Research, patents, and start-up companies using nanotechnology are growing exponentially. The general public and young students who will be the next generation work force need to properly understand and get excited by nanotechnology to ensure its public support, acceptance, and advancement. Water and air have many pollutants that are invisible to the naked eye, and the concept of selectively removing the pollutants using nanostructured materials is difficult to convey. We developed a hands-on activity where pompoms, representing pollutants in water or air, "adsorb" to adhesive blocks, representing nanostructured adsorbents. Students compete with their choice of sorbent (one large block or 8 small "nanoblocks," both having the same unit volume) to see which sorbs/attaches more pompoms in the same period of time. Through this activity, students learn that the nanoblocks have enhanced adsorption capacity due to higher surface area to volume ratio, and therefore, the nanoblocks remove more pollutants (pompoms). This progressive and adjustable learning tool has been validated with multiple learner comprehension levels (preK-12, general public, and undergraduate) and has enabled discussions on advanced topics such as nanoscale capabilities, adsorption modeling, and new technologies to improve pollutant removal and degradation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)708-713
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 9 2019


  • Demonstrations
  • Elementary/Middle School Science
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • First-Year Undergraduate/General
  • General Public
  • Hands-On Learning/Manipulatives
  • Nanotechnology
  • Public Understanding/Outreach
  • Reactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Education


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