High School Kids Get Close-Up View of MSE

Fifteen top-ranked high school students from North and South Carolina discovered some of the mysteries of materials science thanks to Materials Camp 2009, the MSE department’s summer outreach program.

What, exactly, did the eight girls and seven boys find out during their weeklong stay in June on the NC State campus?

Most spectacularly, they learned that a 50-pound wad of Silly Putty dropped from the roof of D.H. Hill Library in 90-plus degree heat will shatter into thousands of pieces when it slams into the Brickyard 10 stories below. Lighter-weight Silly Putty balls used at previous camps yielded far less impressive results: It took at least two drops from the library roof to achieve a modest two-way split.

In a more serious vein, the campers also looked at atoms with a transmission electron microscope, examined their own hair through a scanning electron microscope, toured the Progress Energy failure-analysis lab near the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County, got other hands-on lab experience and received classroom instruction from MSE professors and a visiting speaker.

For the grand finale on the last day, the staff put together a Jeopardy game to test the knowledge campers had acquired during the previous week. Three teams competed, providing the question answered by statements such as: “This occurs when grocery bags and nylon are stretched.” (The correct response: “What is alignment of polymer chains?”)

A number of campers indicated interest in enrolling in the NC State materials science program. Jake Laroe, a rising senior at Bishop McGuinnes High School near Kernersville, said he plans to attend NC State and that materials science is a likely choice for his undergraduate major. “Through the activities at Materials Camp,” he said, “I realized how broad the field is—you have everything from biomaterials to nanomaterials.”

This year’s camp was the fifth offered by the MSE department and the NC State College of Engineering. Sponsors included the NC State Analytical Instrumentation Facility, the ASM Materials Education Foundation, the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Progress Energy, Protochips, Nucor Steel and the RJ Lee Group.

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