User login

Mystery Shapes

Source Institutions

    NISE Network

Add to listGo to activity
Mystery Shapes

In this activity, learners describe an object they can’t see. After someone picks outs a few mystery objects and places them in a pillowcase, learners will investigate using only their hands. After drawing the objects they feel, learners will compare their work to the revealed contents of the pillowcase. This activity connects the field of nanotechnology by acting as a model for a special tool called a scanning probe microscope. This tool lets scientists “feel” things that are too small to see with regular microscopes. Step-by-step instructions are included with photos along with safety recommendations. Activity guide includes a "What's going on?" explanation and quick connections to seeing and manipulating atoms with a scanning probe microscope.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - adult

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Pillow case (or other opaque sack-like bag)
  • Assorted small objects (such a letter blocks, rubber balls, small plastic animals or toys)
  • Paper (you can use the print out provided)
  • Pens or pencils
  • Bandana or eye-mask (optional)
  • Mystery Shapes Activity Sheet (optional)


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Touch
  • Physical Sciences
    • Structure and Properties of Matter


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Sciencenter

Source Collection:

  • NISE Network


  • Creative Commons, Sciencenter, 2013

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation


User Lists

This resource is part of these lists: