Can you paint a circuit on your desk? Can you print a prototype or new toy? Designed to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and STEM professionals, this station-based module provides learners with the opportunity to explore the materials of the future in a fun and hands-on way! Learners will experiment with conductive paints, fabrics, materials and circuits; play with shape-memory polymers and thermoplastics; design and build mechanical systems with memory metal alloys; and see 3-D printing in action.

Key Concepts: Plastics, Materials Science, Conduction, Circuits, Thermal Energy, Design, Nanotechnology, Atoms and Molecules, Atomic Structure and Alloys

The 21st Century Materials Module involves active learning stations that each explore a material, technology or process that is, or will be, revolutionizing products and processes in the future. Each station description below includes links, lesson plans and sources to help you incorporate these types of activities into your school’s science and engineering program.

Our Partners and Sponsors:
The CU Boulder Photo-Origami Research Project

The CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science 
The CU Boulder Materials Science and Engineering Program

3-D Printing and Thermoplastics
These stations are built around a 3D printer running a sample project during the workshop and opportunities to experiment with shape-memory and thermoplastics.

Materials: 8 coffee mugs, 8 metal forks, a bottle of thermoplastic pellets, a roll of paper towels, instruction cards and directions, two electric kettles, the 3D printer, hairspray, a knife, a spatula, connection and power cords. Note: a laptop with the printer control software, slicr, and the print files needs to be prepared ahead of time.

Lulzbot: The Colorado company that made our 3D printer and is working with the Photo-origami Research Project at CU Boulder that provided it.

Thermoplastic Pellets from Education Innovations, Inc.

Muscle Wires
The muscle wire station involves a series of demonstrations and a design opportunity using muscle wires and pre-built LEGO structures.

Materials: Skeleton with muscle wires and attached switches, two lifting demos with switches and two spare 3 kg weights, a large number of alligator clip leads, eight 6v batteries and spare switches, 6 pre-build LEGO stations, 6 switches, 6 power sources (with on/off switches built in), 6 muscle wire sets and 2 trays of spare LEGOs.  NOTE: Science Discovery uses .10 mm low-temperature muscle wire with a custom designed process for the connections. We tied a small, 4-6 mm, loop on the end of the wire that was hooked over a standard o-loop electrical crimp for 24ga wire with the end of the loop, knot and the length of wire in the crimp socket.

Images Scientific Instruments: Our source for Nitinol and Flexinol wires, shape metal springs and other support products

Jameco Electronics: This electronics supply company carries a large selection Nitinol and Flexinol Muscle Wires and other equipment

Nitinol, A Shape Memory Alloy from Penn State University

Nitinol and Flexinol Lesson Plans

Flexinol Wire Technical Information

21st Century Conductors
These two stations, and their demonstrations, use conductive paints, LED lights, resistors, as well as conductive fabric, thread and fiber optic technology to allow student to paint circuits on boards and transmit information using lasers and fiber optic cable.

Materials: Instruction cards, a powered/light hat, two fiber optic demonstrations with their own 9v batteries, two conductive fabric/thread demonstrations with batteries and alligator clip wires (4 each), cards with directions, 6 jars with premixed graphite/salt mixes, a bottle of tempura paint, 2 wash-bottles filled with water, 2 rolls of paper towels, 2 containers of hand-wipes, 6 trays, 6 plastic light and sound boards, 6 paint brushes and 4 waste buckets. Note: Science Discovery improved the standard classroom recipes for conductive paint below by adding a small amount of salt to the graphite, water and tempura paint mixture, which allows the paint to conduct electricity both wet and dry.

Making Conductive Inks and Paints from Inventables

Sparkfun: A Colorado company specializing in cutting edge education, education products, services and an inexpensive source for a diverse set of high quality electronics hardware including our led lights, power systems, switches and hardware.

Industrial Fiber Optics: A company specializing in fiber optic technology that also carries  educational kits and resources.

Jameco: This company offers a wide variety of technology-based education kits including fiber-optics and simple electronics kits.

The two stations focused on polymers offer an opportunity to explore the wide variety of polymers available today, as well as an opportunity to make bioplastics from cornstarch.

Materials: Sets of small food service gloves (significantly less expensive than standard gloves), 1 or 2 microwave ovens, 8 trays, 2 plastic containers with cornstarch and water for each table (4), 4-1 tablespoon measuring spoons, 4” waxed paper plates (40), tongs and oven-mitts (2), stir sticks (50-100). The polymer sets are three cups/station/group (used once) prefilled with alginate polymer, snow polymer and water gel polymers, a jar of water, eyedroppers and paper towels.

Inventables: A cutting-edge industrial supply company and our source for shapeable plastics, conductive materials, shape memory polymers and an entire suite of inspirational materials for young scientists and engineers.

Flinn Scientific: Flinn offers a wide variety of affordable polymer-based education kits, as well as bulk orders of the polymers used in this workshop.

Instant Snow Polymer Demonstration Set

Water Gel Polymer Demonstration Kit

Polymer Lessons and Links

Corn Starch Plastic (Science OFF Center)

Corn Starch Plastic (Instructables)

Plastics and Polymers Lesson