About the “Quantoriums”

At least a 100 Quantoriums are expected to begin their work all over Russia by 2020. Venues for the youth technoparks have already been prepared in Khabarovsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ulyanovsk, Vologda, Grozny, Tula and others. Several are already active: 19 Quantoriums opened in 2016 and no less than 17 will become available this year. The children there can study such subjects as robotics, nanotechnologies, space, biotechnology, VR/AR, neurotechnology, automotive industry, drone construction, energy, geology, IT, laser technology and industrial design.

The Quantoriums’ main purpose is to instill in the children inventive and engineering qualities – i.e. their skill in solving practical problems and using novel solutions – and teamwork and project skills, the so-called “pervasive competencies”. This is all necessary not just to bring young talents “to light”, but to form the future backbone of Russia’s future global economic leadership. According to the National Technological Initiative, by 2035 the nation should become a world leader in several high-tech markets. This would require the kind of specialists that the Quantorium program is intended to train.

“What makes Quantoriums special is that they put an emphasis on project work. Kids won’t just follow textbooks – they will have to set their own tasks and find their own solutions. This will develop their technological creativity. We also plan to get them involved in working on actual cases presented by businesses and industry representatives. We expect the children to propose unique and unorthodox solutions for real-life problems. This would provide the technoparks with external financing and the kids with practice,” – comments Mikhail Mukhin, head of the Nanocenter at ITMO University’s Metamaterials Lab who has become a federal tutor in the ITMO Nanoquantum program.

This year, for example, the pupils at ITMO’s Nanoquantum will work on projects to create nanoagents for changing properties of shampoo, as well as developing technology for the protection of valuable paperwork, says Ivan Mukhin, researcher at Metamaterials Lab.

What kind of teachers Quantoriums need

The technoparks will employ specially trained mentors, who will be prepared for this work by so-called “federal tutors”. ITMO University’s team (Professor Alexander Golubok, Ivan and Mikhail Mukhin) have signed up as federal tutors on the subject of nanotechnology. They will develop learning methodology, conduct courses and arrange the mentors’ work.

Ivan Mukhin, Alexander Golubok and Mikhail Mukhin

It’s no accident that ITMO was chosen for this assignment. The university’s staff have been integrating nanotechnology into school-level education for some years now. For example, the NT-SPb company, a resident of ITMO’s Technopark, has developed the nanotechnological device NanoTutor, the multi-mode analyzer for scanning probe microscopes ProBeam and other devices used in educating schoolchildren about nanotechnology.

“We need to train a new generation of educators who can educate children about electronics, physics, engineering and programming. These mentors will need to be able to form a “nano worldview” and teach them to use modern technology to explore the nano-world. It is no secret that these days children first encounter a microscope in kindergarten. The same needs to happen with nanotechnology – it needs to be a part of the child’s worldview at the earliest stages of their development as a person. The sooner it happens, the better,” – explains Alexander Golubok, senior researcher at the Department of Nanophotonics and Metamaterials.

The teaching philosophy at Quantoriums will focus not on telling a child how things need to be done, but on helping them implement their own idea, adds Mikhail Mukhin. The mentors will help kids during the four stages of increasing difficulty. On the first stage, kids will solve basic problems and develop their learning skills. Second stage entails a more in-depth project with the use of lab equipment – for instance, having to calculate certain parameters of a nanoparticle. On the third stage kids will face problems without a set solution so that they can solve them in their own, unique way. This is intended to help them think creatively. And, lastly, the fourth stage is a competition between the teams representing various Quantoriums. There the students will attempt to solve a problem similar to what they’ve already encountered – an open-ended task with room for multiple solutions.

How Nanoquantum mentors are trained

A special “Nanoclass” was formed at ITMO University to train such staff. This year’s first batch of mentors has already completed a four-day course on how to use nano-equipment and how to teach kids to use it. Future educators learned how to use NanoTutor, a device that is used to analyze nanosurfaces or create nanostructures. They also studied the various types of optical and electronic microscopes and the fluorescent spectrometer – a device that analyzes a substance’s basic elemental composition. All of the equipment used in the course is made at ITMO University’s Technopark, the staff of which also developed the training program.

The first batch of newly-minted mentors includes recent graduates, experienced teachers, material scientists and people with degrees in design and engineering. Many of them were indeed not up to date with the new materials and modern equipment, notes Ivan Mukhin. However, their training isn’t over yet. Once a week Nanoquantum’s team of federal tutors will conduct webinars and come to Quantoriums monthly to help with their questions and problems.

“By participating in the Quantorium project, ITMO University not only helps with an important task for our country, but also attracts its future applicants and cultivates in high school students an interest in learning about nanotechnology. This is work with a purpose. The “Nanoclass” will also provide a base for our students to test their own projects, as well as help implement the Technopark’s products and introduce them to the national education market,” – says Alexander Golubok.