Questions for ‘A shape-shifting robotic tooth-cleaner might one day brush for you’

a Black teen with braces brushes her teeth

What if you didn’t have to use your hands to brush your teeth? Someday, a shape-shifting swarm of nanoparticles might automatically brush and floss for you. The nanoparticles even kill bacteria just like toothpaste or mouthwash.

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To accompany A shape-shifting robotic tooth-cleaner might one day brush for you


Before Reading:

  1. Working in small groups, discuss what makes something a “robot.” Come up with a definition upon which you can all agree. Was agreeing upon this definition easy or difficult? Now put your group’s definition to the test. Consider the Roomba “robot” vacuum cleaner — a small, disc-shaped device that glides around your house and vacuums up trash. Based on your definition, would the Roomba be considered a “robot?” Explain why or why not.
  2. Why is it important to brush your teeth? Is it easier to brush your teeth or wash your hands? Which takes longer? Briefly explain the reasons for these differences.

During Reading:

  1. What are the nanoparticles in this story made of? What causes these nanoparticles to move and rearrange themselves?
  2. How did scientists test their robotic bristles in the lab? 
  3. Compare and contrast the different research areas of Ed Steager and Hyun (Michel) Koo. 
  4. What are “dental caries”? ­ 
  5. How does an electromagnet differ from a normal kitchen magnet? Describe how the nanoparticles change when the electromagnet gets turned on.  
  6. In addition to removing plaque, what “bonus” ability do these nanoparticles demonstrate, according to the story?
  7. In Koo’s 2021 study, what did the human volunteers “wear” to help the robot’s action? 
  8. Describe how the human volunteers used the nanoparticles in Koo’s 2021 study.

After Reading:

  1. What was your initial reaction to reading about these dental robots? Before this technology is ready for use, the researchers must finish developing the device so all parts can easily fit in someone’s mouth. Draw a picture of how you imagine this device might look. How big would it be? What materials would it be made of? Would you use the device that you just drew? Explain why or why not.
  2. Other than dental health, imagine three other potential applications for shape-shifting nanoparticle robots. Draw or describe them.