Boise State University/NSF Program Benefits High School Materials Scientists


Newswise — With advances in science and technology, today’s high school students could end up working with materials that don’t even exist today. An innovative National Science Foundation program is partnering with industry, academia and K-12 educators to develop next generation-curriculum to address this challenge.

The Boise State Materials for Energy and Sustainability Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program is led by Rick Ubic. The program allowed Centennial High School AP chemistry teacher Alison Fielding to spend time in assistant professor David Estrada’s Integrated NanoMaterials Laboratory at Boise State, where she learned first-hand about exciting advances in the field of materials science and engineering.

“I was thrilled to work with Alison and the other teachers to extend the reach of Boise State research to the next generation of Idaho’s STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] undergraduates,” said Ubic. “Following her experience, Alison worked hard to find an affordable way to introduce a graphene lab into her AP Chemistry class.”

The RET program partners teachers with university researchers to help them translate research experiences into K-12 classroom experiences. Now Fielding is taking what she learned to her students in a series of guided-inquiry labs where they will synthesize two-dimensional nanoflakes, like graphene, molybdenum disulfide or hexagonal boron nitride.

Fielding contacted the Micron Foundation seeking a grant to cover the equipment and supplies that she needed to make the project come to life. Micron donated $2,400 worth of equipment and supplies themselves, then worked with one of their vendors, VWR – a global laboratory supply company – to secure an additional $1,800 worth of items. To secure the remaining items for the project, the Micron Foundation then provided a cash grant in the amount of $1,200.

Now Fielding will lead her students through a “top-down” synthesis experiment. The process involves taking three-dimensional layered materials, such as graphite, and peeling off atomically thin layers through a liquid exfoliation technique.

As a consequence of contacts she made at Hewlett-Packard during the RET at Boise State, the company is allowing her students free use of their scanning electron microscope to identify the structure of their materials.

“The numerous partners involved in this project highlight the importance of our nation’s Materials Genome Initiative, which aims to discover, cheaply manufacture and rapidly deploy advanced materials,” said Estrada.

“We are excited to see Alison’s project coming to fruition and pleased to be a part of the partnership that made it possible,” said Dee Mooney, Micron Foundation executive director. “Projects like this provide inquiry-based, hands-on experience in STEM fields that fascinate and inspire students to lead the charge in solving real-world problems.” This emerging field of two-dimensional nanomaterials received worldwide attention in 2010, when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics for “groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.” Since then the community has been investigating numerous other two-dimensional materials that are considered possible alternatives to silicon for superior data storage and speed.

Fielding will present her work in a Curriculum Exchange session for K-12 teachers nationwide at the American Society for Engineering Education Conference in Seattle this June. The guided-inquiry materials are available for free download from the Nanomaterials website at coen.boisestate.edu/inml/community-outreach.

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