“Hey do you guys want to see some fluorescent nanodiamond water?!” I eagerly yelled out as two little boys walked by. Honestly, they probably had no idea what I was talking about, but they still excitedly wandered over. I handed them an ultraviolet flashlight and encouraged them to take a look underneath the black drape we had set up covering up our fluorescent nanodiamond water exhibit at the recent Engineering Expo. This was the beginning of a series of different encounters I had throughout the day which reminded me that everyone, despite their educational background, age, and experiences, is a scientist to some extent.
Both boys spent a good amount of time checking out the nanodiamond water and then just kind of looked at me waiting for an explanation. They sat right down on the ground, almost like it was story time, and waited for me to enlighten them about what they had just seen. However, since to me science is all about stumbling upon your own discoveries and learning by doing I decided to start by asking the boys some questions (let’s call one Ted and the other Steve).
“So what did you guys see when you had your head under the drape?” I asked.
“I saw things glowing!” replied Ted.
To which I responded, “Oh yeah? What colors did you see?”
Steve answered with, “One tube was clear, one was a green, and the other was red.”
Trying to probe for a deeper understanding, I asked, “What do you guys think was glowing?”
Ted, using his surroundings and context clues, quizzically answered, “Nanodiamond?”
Ted happened to be exactly correct! What the demonstration showed were vials of water containing tiny nanodiamond particles wrapped with two different fluorescent dyes (one dye glows green, while the other glows red, just like Steve noticed). The third tube was just regular water without any nanodiamond particles to serve as a reference point (the clear color that Steve pointed out). The nanodiamond particles are so small they do not feel the forces of gravity and as a result float in water. When the two boys shined ultraviolet light on these solutions they were able to see the fluorescent solutions of nanodiamond…just like Steve and Ted pointed out!