Posts Tagged engineering

STEM Tuesday– Material Science– Interview with Author Jennifer Swanson

Super Gear Book


Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today, I’m delighted to interview the founder of STEM Tuesday, Jennifer Swanson!

Jennifer is a huge fan of STEM and loves to write about technical topics. She did just that in her SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up! book with Charlesbridge Publishing.

Super Gear Book



A book about nanotechnology and sports… how did you put those two topics together? 

  Well I’ve always loved technonogy and I love sports, too. In fact, I’ve played tons of sports my whole life. Those I haven’t played, I’ve watched. I’m a huge fan of the Olympics, too. We used to watch it as a family. Do you remember when Michael Phelps wore that full-body swimsuit in the 2008 Beijing Olympics? I do! It was fabulous and he won tons of medals with it. So did his teammates. Sooo many records were broken that year. I was definitely intrigued. What was that amazing swimsuit made of? Turns out, it was developed with nanotechnology. 

Did you know anything about nanotechnology at the time? 

Not much. But as I said, I was very intrigued by the suit, so I set about learning more. That’s how I am with pretty much all of the topics I write. I read about something cool in the news and I just have to learn more about it. You know, understand how it works and also WHY it works. Usually as I learn more, I get really excited about the technology and all of the applications it has and then, well, I have to write about it. That’s what happened with this book!

Nanotechnology is a pretty technical topic. Was it difficult to sell this idea?

Sort of. I mean, when you have a fairly technical topic, you really have to come up with a great hook. One that will cause even people who aren’t interested in STEM to be intrigued by your topic. The best way I’ve found to get editors and agents interested in technical topics is to put the hook in the title. A great title grabs their attention fast! And that gets them to read the rest of your proposal. So, that’s a good first step. (Of course, the writing is everything, so the rest of your proposal has to be written well, too). 

What are some cool things you learned about sports and the nanomaterials that are used in them?

First of all, this book came out a few years back, so the applications for nanomaterials have actually expanded significantly since then. Nanotechnology is used to create almost all of the materials in many different sports. It allows for stronger, more durable, and yet flexible materials, which then support athletes in their performance. 

For example, golf is one sport that uses a lot of nanotechnology in its materials. Everything from the dimples on the ball, to the core inside the golf ball, to the head and shaft of the golf club is specially designed with nanomaterials, like carbon fibers. This allows players to hit the ball farther, higher, and with much more accuracy than ever before. Just do an internet search of golf balls and nanotechnology and see how many different balls use the words nanotech or carbon fibers, or graphene. It’s pretty incredible. 

Nanotechnology is in so many other objects, too. How did you decide on sports as your focus? 

Well, aside from loving sports, I figured that was my biggest hook. Yes, nanomaterials are used in many objects in medicine, recycling, and even in energy. But the one topic I thought might most resonate with kids was sports. 

And then I played up that connection in my proposal. I did a search for sports words and phrases like Team Up! and Play Ball and Tee it Up, etc. I find that makes people smile when they read and also shows that I did my research on the topic. 


What would you like readers to take away from your book? 

I hope they find nanotechnology as exciting as I do. That they learn about these cool materials and also that they think about the engineering that made them every time they pick up a bat, golf club, tennis racket or put on a swimsuit. 


Author Jennifer Swanson

Jennifer Swanson’s love of science began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in the fascinating 45 nonfiction books she has written for children.

Learn more about Jennifer at



Check out her two new STEM books releasing this year!



cover art shows an astronaut in full gear against a dark background with title in neon letteringLEGO AMazing Earth book


STEM Tuesday– Material Science– Writing Tips and Resources

Materials Science is a new category for me. My research turned up intriguing connections with arts activities because much of it is about discoveries. So, this blog post is about some Very New research on materials and a Very Old technique for science exploration that is wonderfully flexible, easy and inexpensive, and makes use of recycled and sustainable materials.Neri Oxman photo

I was particularly pleased to find the Very New in the work of Neri Oxman. She blurs the line between science and design. Wikipedia describes her work as “embodying environmental design and digital morphogenesis*, with shapes and properties that are determined by their context.” Yes*, I had to look it up too. It means, according to Merriam-Webster – a branch of biology that deals with the form and structure of animals and plants. There have been a number of good books on Materials Science in the previous May STEM Tuesday blogs. Ms. Oxman’s writings and articles are in anthologies and scholarly journals, so instead I have included a link to her documentary “Nature x Humanity,” with the hope that you will find her take on Materials Science to be worth following in the future.

She says that 2020 is the year in which the anthropomass (manufactured materials) will exceed the biomass on our planet. Current building practices are the main culprits. She offers alternate building materials and structures that will break down. For instance, one building material she helped to develop can be disposed of by dropping it into the sea. It will dissolve and provide nutrients for fish.

I emailed her and in her kind response, she sent a link to the documentary about sustainable architecture and protecting the earth’s resources (see below). It’s for adults and older students and very thought provoking. Imagine structures built from apple peels and shrimp shells (what do you suppose Legal Seafoods thought when she asked for all their discarded shrimp shells?). Or imagine a glass structure that can heat your home without conventional fuel, constructed on a 3D printer.

Here is the link to “Nature x Humanity.” The description says, “We are pleased to present our documentary entitled Nature x Humanity. The documentary debuts at a critical juncture when the anthropomass—the mass produced by humans—has exceeded that of the living biomass on our planet. Through the lens of five projects and their related material systems, we propose five tenets for a new Material Ecology: glass, polymers, fibers, pigments, and cellular solids. Motivated to unite the grown and the made, we demonstrate how each material system and the technology invented to shape it embodies and advances Nature’s way while continuing to promote human progress.”

I see such an imaginative approach to science as an argument in favor of including arts with the science curriculum. The processes for creativity and scientific inquiry are very similar – except creativity is much more flexible in verification. When curiosity and ideas reign without stress over outcome, the mind is freer to wander and invent. The kind of creativity that envisions new uses for alternate materials is developed though practice, making connections, and often, no stress over the outcome.

Real invention comes from dreaming and imagining.

Papier Mache Style book coverWhich brings me to the Very Old technique for science activities – papier-mâché. You might think, oh please, we did that in kindergarten. However, the technique deserves a second look in this current world where sustainability and recycling are essential. It’s inexpensive to do. It makes use of throw-away materials – newspaper (if you can find any), brown paper bags, junk mail, plastic bottles, even cloth scraps and shred.

Papier-mâché first appeared in China c. second century AD, where it was used for warrior helmets and pots. It spread along trade routes to the middle east and Europe. Lacquering and papier mâché became a popular and highly-prized art form.

Today it can be used as a great craft technique to design and create scientific models for a better classroom experience. The possibilities are endless – 3D botanical illustrations, bones, insects, display boxes, buildings. Here are some photos of one of my previous classes where we studied historic castles and made models. The students also wrote an accompanying history of their chosen castle. And you can see the imaginative recycling that engaged the students.papier mache clock

There are many recipes for mâché. My all-purpose fallback is cheap white school glue mixed 3 parts glue, 1 part water. That recipe makes a structure that is rigid. If you want flexibility (such as a book cover or mask) use Sobo Glue. I have seen others use glue made with flour, joint compound, and other materials. You can purchase ready-made “paper clay,” which is a delight to work with – and expensive. The paper clay is good for small pieces.

My standby book has been Papier Mâché Style by Alex MacCormack. (Krause Publications, 1994). There are many books available as well as websites and videos. It’s a real smorgasbord of great ideas. You really need no art experience to use papier-mâché, but need to be willing to be adventurous and persistent. And yes, it is messy and needs time to dry. But the results are well worth it.

Student papier mache castle in process. Art and design are essential for communicating science. The best content in the world is useless if nobody reads or looks at it. That means it has to be visually enticing. It also generally invites students to participate in their own learning in a more active way.


Margo Lemieux is professor emerita at Lasell University, Newton, MA. She recently helped organize an exhibit and donation of fine art prints at the DaNang Museum of Fine Arts in Vietnam.

STEM Tuesday– Material Science– In the Classroom


Have you thought about the objects you use every day? Your hairbrush, clothes, dishes, desk, and books? What are they made from? Materials science is the study of the solid materials that make up all objects. This month’s books examine different aspects of materials science and can be used as a starting point for classroom discussions and activities.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLet’s Investigate Everyday Materials  by Ruth Owen

Readers will discover the properties of materials and how they’re suitable for specific tasks. In addition, they’ll learn how they’re made! Get up close to the worlds of wood, metal, plastic, glass, rock, and wool and discover how these items work for us regularly.


Activity: What materials can you find in your home or classroom? Have students go on a scavenger hunt to find objects made of different materials either at home or in the classroom. Search for objects made of each material: metal, glass, plastic, fabric, concrete, wood, ceramic, and rubber. What did you find? Choose one object. What material was used to make it? What would happen if a different material was used to make this object?


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgStuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik

Why do materials look and behave the way they do? This book speaks about the amazing properties of the materials all around us that we take for granted.


Activity: Many materials scientists have had an important role in history. Johannes Gutenberg changed materials to make the printing press. John Smeaton invented concrete, which is used in many objects today. Other important scientists include William Champion, Benjamin Huntsman, Charles Goodyear, Wallace Carothers, and Harry Brearley. Have students choose an important materials scientist or moment in materials science history. Research this person or moment to find out what contribution was made to materials science. What drove them? Did they face any challenges? How do we use their contributions today?


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDiscover Nanotechnology by Lisa J Amstutz

All about how scientists work with the tiniest objects imaginable to build wonderful things!



Activity: Take students on a tour of the Space Nanotechnology Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here they will learn more about how nanotechnology is being used to help scientists in space.



Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.