Article by Niki Jennings, NC State MSE Communications Specialist
The thought of a teacher during the summertime may conjure an image of relaxing at a beach. While it is true that many teachers do spend their summers outside of the classroom, a handpicked group of eager educators from middle and high schools, as well as community colleges descend upon NC State’s campus each summer to learn how to become a better researcher.
Every summer, the Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network (RTNN) provides hands-on instructional research exposure in its competitive Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Atomic Scale Design and Engineering program. This five-week program takes place between June and July. Under the guidance of expert mentors, up to eleven selected educators conduct rigorous real-world research in science and engineering labs at NC State, Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and nearby world-class industry labs. The culmination of those five weeks lead up to a scientific poster presentation, where the educators present their research findings alongside their cohort and represent the Triangle research community.
Beginning with a two-day orientation, attendees are presented with specialized training. The program is designed to supplement and emphasize research training protocols that teachers may not have been exposed to during traditional education curriculums. Working in small teams with cutting-edge equipment provides the participants unique opportunities such as learning how to fabricate LEDs and microfluidic devices. Educators gain hands-on experience with nanoscale science and engineering within RTNN facilities using tools such as scanning electron microscopes and gowning up to access deposition tools in the clean room. Under the direction of RET leadership, participants create lesson plans and other teaching materials that can then be used in their home institutions. The program is also a key facilitator of the STEM education and research pipeline. By providing access to real tools, educators can create tangible experiments to implement in their own classrooms and share with their colleagues to boost the next generation of STEM researchers.
Feedback from the 2021 cohort has been very positive. The participants felt lucky and engaged to be back in person.
The RET program is directed by Jacob Jones, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and the Principal Investigator of RTNN. Gail Jones, Distinguished Graduate Professor in the College of Education, is Co-PI of the RET program. Gail works with the Ph.D. students in the program. Maude Cuchiara, Associate Research Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Associate Director of RTNN, coordinates program logistics and implements program activities.
Information on how to apply for the Summer 2022 cohort will be available in early 2022.