Photo: Jesper Scheel

DTU’s teaching receives international recognition

Tuesday 20 Jun 17


Steffen Foss Hansen
Associate Professor
DTU Environment
+4545 25 15 93


Anders Baun
DTU Environment
+4545 25 15 67

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The leading scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology has just published a rare article about nanosafety teaching at DTU. In particular, it is the close interaction between research and an engaging teaching approach that is emphasized—also by the course students.

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 course’s structure and pedagogical basis are described in a recently published article 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. 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. The students must then critically assess whether the material is relevant in a risk assessment,” explains Associate Professor Steffen Foss Hansen, DTU Environment.

Together, these two skills enable the students to work with security assessments of all types of nanomaterials and technologies.

Varied and engaging teaching
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.

Accessible lecturers and new research input
The scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology is not alone in its enthusiasm for 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, an exchange student from Switzerland.

The teaching format has also received praise. “We learn by trying out things ourselves and then putting forward arguments to support the reasons for acting as we have done. Even though this can be extremely frustrating—there is seldom a crystal clear correct answer—you know whether something is right or wrong,” says Mathias Hjorth.

“However, decisions are always taken in close dialogue with the lecturers. 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. I don’t know of a similar approach on other courses—but it is very rewarding format,” adds Kerstin von Borries.

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.