The course about nanosafety is mentioned in the August issue of nature nanotechnology. Photo: Mikkel Adsbøl

International recognition for nanosafety course

Thursday 14 Sep 17

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Steffen Foss Hansen
Associate Professor
DTU Environment
+45 45 25 15 93

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Anders Baun
Professor
DTU Environment
+45 45 25 15 67

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The leading scientific journal nature nanotechnology has published an article about a course in nanosafety at DTU.

Over the past nearly ten years, Associate professor Steffen Foss Hansen and Professor Anders Baun, DTU Environment—have developed a course on the risk assessment of nanomaterials and nanotechnology. The two have now received the rare distinction of having their course mentioned in the renowned scientific journal nature nanotechnology.

“At the time we started the course, we were entering uncharted territory. We therefore refer to it as an experimental course—also because it is not traditional teaching with a review of literature and associated exercises,” explains Associate Professor Steffen Foss Hansen, DTU Environment.

“Rather, the chief aim of the course is to enable the students to find relevant research publications that can be used to assess the risk of nanomaterials impacting health and the environment so they can critically assess whether the material is relevant for use in a risk assessment.”

It is precisely these two skills that enable the students to subsequently work with security assessments of all types of nanomaterials and technologies.

Varied and engaging
The course is organized so that the teaching is both interesting and varied, with a mixture of lectures, interspersed with small exercises where the students must solve a task with the person sitting next to them.

Such a task may involve making a small calculation, discussing a question—or perhaps identifying the key messages from a given piece of text. Anders Baun and Steffen Foss Hansen have also made a point of including plenty of breaks.

“During breaks there is time to digest input from the lecturer—just as it leaves time to discuss difficult issues or reflections with us lecturers. We continually use student feedback to improve teaching—e.g. by repeating difficult elements which we can hear that several students are having problems understanding,” says Anders Baun.

Input for new research
The scientific journal nature nanotechnology is not alone in highlighting the quality of the teaching on the course Nanotechnology and the Environment—many of the students are equally enthusiastic.

“I find it an exciting and extremely relevant course that supplements the other courses about all the great things that nanotechnology can offer the world. As engineers, it is easy to get carried away by the amazing potential of nanotechnology, but in my future work will also be important to be aware of the risk of using nanomaterials,” says Jonathan Regev who is studying nanotechnology in Switzerland and participating in the course as an exchange student.

Mathias Hjorth, who is currently taking his third semester of an MSc Eng in Environmental Engineering, says:

“We learn by trying things out for ourselves and then putting forward arguments in support of our choices. However, it can also be extremely frustrating because there is seldom a unilaterally correct answer that tells you whether something is right or wrong,” says Mathias Hjorth.

And Kerstin von Borries, also taking her MSc Eng in Environmental Engineering, adds:

“Decisions are always taken in close dialogue with the lecturers, however. For example, they walk about the classroom while we work in groups, asking how things are going and providing guidance and support. During the course, we are also required to submit a draft synopsis and a section of the report which we have to complete by the end of the course. The lecturers read the drafts and provide very constructive feedback. It’s not something I’ve experienced on other courses—but it is incredibly rewarding.”

Both the students and the two lecturers agree that the course highlights the many holes and unknown areas within the risk assessment of nanomaterials and technology.

“The courses offer excellent input on where we should focus our future research,” says Steffen Foss Hansen.

However, in the short term, the two lecturers are busy realizing their next ambition—to be able to offer the course on nanosafety online so that it is available to both university students and other professionals in the field.

Photo: DTU

From left to right: Kerstin von Borries - Jonathan Regev - Mathias Hjorth


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