Introducing youths to big ideas about a nano-sized world through video games

February 18, 2011
Introducing youths to big ideas about a nano-sized world through video games
A new online video game developed by Northeastern researchers is aimed at teaching youths the fundamentals of nanoscience and technology.

( -- Working on a science fair project with his lab partner Nikki, Harold Biggums finds himself transformed into a tiny superhero and flung into the midst of an alien plot to take over the world — a plot that he and Nikki can foil only by defying gravity, walking on water and charging across electric fields.

This narrative dilemma is the basic storyline for Geckoman!, an online video game developed by Northeastern University researchers at the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN), which seeks to educate middle-school students about nanoscience and technology.

CHN director Ahmed Busnaina and associate director Jacqueline Isaacs led an interdisciplinary team of educators and game designers to develop the game, which is available in English and Spanish.

“Geckoman! is both engaging and challenging, and along the way, students pick up a lot of nanoscience fundamentals,” said Busnaina, the William Lincoln Smith Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern.

“We had excellent teachers working with us to develop four lesson plans that guide student learning,” said Isaacs, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.  “The results of student play tests indicate that students are learning new concepts.”

Game players follow Harold on an adventurous journey, after he has been shrunk to the nanoscale following an explosion in his laboratory. Players must navigate Harold through various levels across three different worlds, while also collecting scattered notebook pages that provide nanoscience tips to help him progress.

The game was created with funding help from the National Science Foundation; and 15 Days LLC, a company founded by Northeastern alumni and faculty, collaborated with CHN faculty on design. Staff members at Boston’s Museum of Science helped match the game content to national and Massachusetts K-12 science standards.

How did the game get its name? Early in the game development process, the team worked on incorporating a key concept in nanoscience — the “van der Waals” adhesion force, which dominates other forces at the nanoscale. In fact, it is this force that enables geckos to run up walls; the pads of their feet have millions of nanoscale extensions. The game developers decided that Harold would have to become Geckoman, enabling him to move with greater ease between all the unusual surfaces he must navigate in addressing the game’s multi-level challenges. 

Explore further: Undergrad student creates word-based game for iPhone

Related Stories

Undergrad student creates word-based game for iPhone

January 14, 2011

( -- A recently released iPhone and iPad application may seem like a challenging word game for most. But to one undergraduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University, ...

Game-on for a new way of playing

December 14, 2010

A University of Portsmouth graduate has designed the first video game of its kind, where the player enters the sub-consciousness of the main character.

Economic game theory studied by Haas professor

January 6, 2011

You are running a political campaign with limited resources. How should you spend your money to beat your rival? You are a military commander trying to win a battle. How should you deploy your soldiers to gain an edge? You ...

Locating the impossible with 'lightening fast' speed

December 20, 2010

A terrorist plants a time bomb along a gas line in a residential neighborhood. He e-mails a photo of the death trap to law enforcement officials, but no one can tell exactly where the bomb is located. 

Undergraduates design clean, green heating machine

January 28, 2011

Calls to curb the world’s dependence on fossil fuels have grown louder in recent years, and scientists worldwide continue to push for breakthroughs in the green technology industry. Last year, five Northeastern University ...

Recommended for you

Clothing fabric keeps you cool in the heat

November 16, 2017

(—Researchers have designed a thermal regulation textile that has a 55% greater cooling effect than cotton, which translates to cooler skin temperatures when wearing clothes made of the new fabric. The material ...

Graphene water filter turns whisky clear

November 14, 2017

Previously graphene-oxide membranes were shown to be completely impermeable to all solvents except for water. However, a study published in Nature Materials, now shows that we can tailor the molecules that pass through these ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.