Greek Students Zoom in on Nanotechnology

Athenian school's nanotechnology project wins top European prize


In spite of the ongoing financial crisis, most companies – local and international – who employ Greek staff typically praise the high-quality and exceptionally skilled human resources this country has to offer, even in the most sophisticated scientific domains, often citing it as a way out of the country’s problems.

This quality appears to have trickled down to school level, with Greek pupils sweeping the top prizes in a European competition last month for videos on nanotechnology, which involves many fields of science in the manipulation of the tiniest bits of matter for the production of larger products in sectors ranging from electronics and medicine to energy production and consumer products.

The competition, for school pupils aged 11-18, launched by the European Union-supported NanoDiode project and organized by the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA), saw all three top distinctions go to Greek schools, with the top prize shared for two projects, one by a private high school in Attica and the other by the “Florinano” cooperation of the Ammochori and Variko state schools in Florina, northwestern Greece. Third prize went to the 6th Junior High School of Iraklio, Crete.

A group of 14-year-old students at the I.M. Panayiotopoulos High School, based in Pallini, eastern Attica, produced a video that answered the competition’s question/title “What Kind of Nanotechnologies Do We Want?” after approaching one of Europe’s leading players in the industry, Glonatech, which is based in central Greece. It proved to be a winning combination, thanks to the sheer effort the kids put into it.

“Greek children are indeed showing an ever growing interest in physics in general, and we see that starting from small sparks that grow into a burning interest, igniting passions in various domains, from younger and younger ages,” Paraskevi Mimigianni, senior researcher at Glonatech, tells Kathimerini.

The video explains in plain terms – through students asking and the researchers answering – the uses that nanotechnology can have in medicine, the environment and so on, as Glonatech has been awarded for its production of an innovative nano-structured material from carbon nanotubes that can clean up oil spills. Such applications appear to have fascinated the youngsters, with one, Olga Moutzouri, telling Kathimerini how exciting it was being allowed to touch products of nanotechnology with their own fingers. “It was more interactive, so substantial,” she says. “We were surprised to touch the nanomaterials,” says classmate Costis Hiotis.

The 10-minute film, produced under the guidance of physics teachers Iria Makriyianni, Ioannis Apostolakis and Dimitra Hatzidaki and technically prepared by teachers Orestis Charos and Stefanos Fiskilis, also portrayed the children’s concern about the risk of such advanced technologies falling into the wrong hands.

“The aim was to have children witness the uses of nanotechnology in real life as well as the risks involved,” explains Makriyianni, who led the project at the I.M. Panayiotopoulos School. “Last year the same children were introduced to quantum mechanics, and we see that this year they are showing an even greater interest in studying the applications of nanotechnology.”

She explains that the school’s initiative to go beyond the official syllabus, in class as well as through visits to various research centers, serves to cultivate the students’ interest further.

IT teacher Fiskilis adds that it was the children themselves who wrote the script for the video, which can be viewed on YouTube, and that “the questions the students asked of the Glonatech experts were particularly interesting.”

“The pupils made a great effort to understand and learn. They worked hard and did some pioneering work,” testifies Glonatech’s Mimigianni, who can be seen responding to some of the questions in the video.

“Although they are of a very young age, we are always at their disposal for any further cooperation as their interest grows,” she adds.

Originally published in ekathimerini.com

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