Brad Dow.

Remember the name; it could be the answer to a science or engineering essay question someday.

At least that is what the Farmington High School junior is hoping as he enters the field of nanotechnology through a novel program at Dakota County Technical College.

"The nanotechnology field is very young now," said Dow, 17. "It'd be great if I was the answer to an essay question in the future about nanotech."

Dow is one of about 20 high school students from Farmington and Burnsville enrolled in the nanotechnology class at the college.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating matter or creating things at the molecular or atomic levels. Although it is often a source of fodder for science-fiction writers and fictional doomsday machines, in practical terms nanotech has present-day applications for building lighter planes and stronger buildings, treating cancers or even mundane things like creating wrinkle-free clothing.

School officials started the class as a way to get students into the burgeoning field. Eventually, the classes will be taught in high schools using high school teachers.

"Nanoscience is fairly new," said Deb Newberry, the course instructor at the college. "They are learning something that not a lot of people are learning about in college or beyond."

The field is so new that Newberry said only about eight technical colleges in the country, including Dakota, offer two-year degrees in the field. Dakota started its program in 2004 and said it is seen as the model program in the country for nanotechnology.

"We are the one people come to when they want to learn about teaching nanotech or starting a nanotech program," Newberry said.

The high school program is even more novel. Newberry said it is the only year-long nanotech program for high school students in the country.

The class meets every day: three days a week for lectures and two days for lab work where students build things one molecule at a time using about $1 million worth of equipment.

At the moment, for example, students are building gold nanoparticles that are 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.

The gold particles are being used to deliver medicine for treatment of some conditions such as arthritis or identifying certain types of cancer earlier.

Bruce Morrissette, the associate principal at Burnsville High School, said the district committed to the program because of its possibilities and because of what it could teach the students about the field and college work.

"It fit a need," Morrissette said of the class, for which the students get college credit. "It was something that took us in a different direction and was cutting edge. We need to get more into thinking outside the box."

Newberry said the curriculum and experiments she does with the high schoolers are the same as with her college students, although she sometimes spends more time on topics with the younger students.

Some of the students are taking a college course for the first time and are learning that in college they have to be more independent and self-motivated to study the lessons, do the research and think.

"The class is a little more challenging than our high school classes," said Christian Deoferio, a junior at Burnsville High School who is in the nanotech class. "I think it's pretty cool that I get to go off-campus and learn about college."

Morrissette said that exposure to college was one of the things the district was looking to get out of the nano class.

"It's not been the smoothest first semester," Morrissette said, "but it's been pretty much what I would have expected for a first-year program."

Billie Copley, a student at Dakota Technical and Newberry's teaching assistant for the high school class, said the experience "has been fun, but sometimes it's a challenge."

"In the beginning sometimes they were having difficulty translating how their lab [experiments] correlate to the real world," Copley said. "Now they're able to relate it to what they are learning in the lab."

Newberry and the students said part of that was teaching the kids how to do college work and using college study habits, such as taking shorter notes, reading the texts on their own and being prepared for tests and quizzes.

"I'm not dumbing it down for them," Newberry said. "Being able to create structures that you can't see with your eyeballs or that are atoms thick is pretty cool. The students are doing things that their older brothers or sisters didn't get to do."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281