WCU collaboration uses animation to explain nanotechnology

The talent behind the “What is Nanotechnology?” animated video includes (standing, from left) Bradley Lucore, a WCU student who provided voice-over; Madison Turnmire, a student who served as sound engineer; School of Music assistant professor Damon Sink; (seated, from left) Justin Warren, a student who provided the animation; and School of Art and Design associate professor Mary Anna LaFratta.

The talent behind the “What is Nanotechnology?” animated video includes (standing, from left) Bradley Lucore, a WCU student who provided voice-over; Madison Turnmire, a student who served as sound engineer; School of Music assistant professor Damon Sink; (seated, from left) Justin Warren, a student who provided the animation; and School of Art and Design associate professor Mary Anna LaFratta.

Western Carolina University students have designed and created animated videos to explain nanotechnology and its importance that are getting significant national attention.

Three 60-second informative videos, “What is Nanotechnology?,” “Nanotechnology and Your Health” and “Nanotechnology Materials” were produced last semester in a motion graphics class (Art 460) taught by Mary Anna LaFratta, associate professor in the WCU School of Art and Design.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative recently released “What is Nanotechnology?” as part of the first in a series to show how it is possible to both educate and inspire students through nanotechnology. The video, produced by WCU student Justin Warren, has subsequently been included on a White House blog and the Science Matters website, as well as National Public Radio’s “Community Ideas Stations.” It has begun airing on two Public Broadcasting Service TV stations in central Virginia and has been shared via social media platforms.

Each animation explains the significance of studying the super-small ― a nanometer is a standard unit for measuring things as tiny as atoms and molecules ― for health and medical research, computer science, manufacturing and natural sciences. The National Science and Technology Council has identified nanotechnology as one of the emerging general-purpose technologies that, like electricity and the Internet, will have a pervasive impact on the economy and society, with the ability to create entirely new industries, create jobs and increase productivity.

The many facets and daily life applications of nanotechnology as presented by the animations is meant to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The entire class was involved in this project, using National Nanotechnology Initiative scripts and working against a Jan. 20 deadline,” LaFratta said. “It was a real challenge for the students, who really did well. They had to conceptualize the whole viewing experience, from visual elements and scene transitions to music scores, voice-overs, properly reflecting the script and reaching the audience. So it was so much more than just creating animation. They found the scientists were really good to work with, providing resources and feedback, and helping them with conceptualization.”

Professors and students in WCU’s Communication Department and School of Music joined with the School of Art and Design class to compose original music, record voice-over narration and build animation sequences.

“It was true collaboration for an important message, bringing together science, music, communications and graphic design to create easy-to-understand and informative animations,” LaFratta said. “The next two videos, Travis Maness’ ‘Nanotechnology Materials’ and Emily Giarette’s ‘Nanotechnology and Your Health,’ will be featured at future dates. And we plan to continue our relationship with the scientists at the National Nanotechnology Initiative office in Arlington, Virginia.”

For more information, contact LaFratta at lafratta@email.wcu.edu or 828-227-2463.