The goal of MRSEC outreach efforts is to inspire Kindergarten-Grade 12 (K-12) students by the excitement of materials research and to enlarge the pool of students who become future scientists and engineers. Outreach efforts take various forms, such as classroom visits and bringing K-12 students to the University of Nebraska. Visits to schools by MRSEC researchers provide hands-on science activities and demonstrate students the relevance of materials and nanoscience research. Bringing groups of K-12 students to University of Nebraska for tours and demonstrations of the MRSEC laboratories let students to know about scientific concepts and new technologies. This provides the opportunity for students to learn about materials and nanoscience research career paths. A few examples of K-12 Outreach activities are as follows.
Academy Day at North Star High School
What could be more entertaining than fire and good music? How about fire that will dance to that music? The Rubens' tube, also known as the standing wave flame tube, is a physics experiment demonstrating a standing wave. It shows the relationship between sound waves and air pressure and also allows you to see different wavelengths of audio frequency. This and other experiments were demonstrated by MRSEC faculty member Christian Binek during two fifty-minute presentations to high-school students during Academy Day at North Star High School. These presentations reached approximately 500 high-school students who are considering various careers in science or technology (April 2009).
MRSEC Collaboration with Raymond Central High School
MRSEC researcher Jeff Shield visited three ninth grade science classes and Pam Rasmussen’s senior physics class at Raymond Central High School. The ninth-grade students were introduced to the magnetic properties of materials and their applications in magnetic information storage on hard disk drives. These demonstrations were directly related to Mrs. Rasmussen’s summer research with MRSEC. As shown below, the senior physics students worked in small groups to measure the electrical properties of light emitting diodes. They also used diffraction gratings to study the properties of the emitted light.
How Strong is It?
University of Nebraska MRSEC faculty worked with first-grade students at Morley Elementary School for seven science lessons to study many properties of magnetism and magnetic materials. These enthusiastic students used hands-on activities to learn how to tell whether a material is magnetic, how to make magnets in a variety of ways, how the earth behaves as a giant magnet, and how like poles repel, and unlike poles attract. They were especially intrigued by the question of how “strong” a magnet could be, and delighted in testing to find out. (Jan. 2009)
Fourth Graders Study Optical Properties of Solids
MRSEC researchers visited Clinton Elementary School to help students investigate the optical and electrical properties of solids. Twenty-three fourth-grade students did several different hands-on experiments involving electrical measurements, optical reflection and transmission, and observations of the refractive properties of transparent material. The students made and tested electrical circuits to study the conduction of various materials, including aluminum and glass. They used light from low-power lasers and other sources to study reflective and refractive properties of materials and how materials are shaped so that images can be formed. The students also investigated the colors of clothes observed through different optical filters. The students learned that electrical conductors usually reflect light better than non-conductors and that some materials transmit light quite well. The session ended with a very active and wide-ranging question and answer period, where such matters as the properties of light from the sun and how different materials are made were discussed.
Seward High School students in front of the University of Nebraska “Newton’s Apple Tree,” a scion from the original apple tree at Newton’s birthplace in England.
RET Participant Uses MRSEC to Increase Student Interest in Science
An important outcome of Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) programs is helping teachers communicate the excitement and relevance of materials research to their students. Steve Wignall, a teacher from Seward High School who worked with MRSEC Professor Diandra Leslie-Pelecky on biomedical applications of magnetic nanoparticles, brought fifteen students to visit the University of Nebraska. In addition to visiting labs, students learned about materials research career paths. Many were surprised to learn that materials research involves a range of scientific and mathematical backgrounds, and has applications from information storage to medicine. Wignall reports that students returned with a new appreciation for materials research and increased excitement about math and science classes. We will expand on this program in the future by involving students from other RET-associated high schools and offering additional information on math and science careers.