Engineering students to bring energy research into K-12 classrooms

National Science Foundation $1.2 million grant for three-year program

9/1/2011 - By: Mike Wolterbeek
Kam Leang demonstrates artificial fin movement Kam Leang demonstrates artificial muscle technology he is developing based on electroactive polymer materials with the ability for multi-degree-of-freedom motion, bending and twisting motion. Applications of the work include small biorobotic unmanned surface/underwater vehicles. Photo by Mike Wolterbeek.

Graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno will be back in middle and high school this fall, at the front of the classroom, working with teachers to present their energy-related science and engineering research to students.

With a $1.2 million grant just awarded to the College of Engineering from the National Science Foundation, doctoral students will be enhancing their skills above and beyond a traditional graduate program by providing valuable training in teaching, mentoring and communicating science and technology to the general public.

“It's an exciting project with significant benefits for all involved,” Kam K. Leang, the project’s principal investigator and associate professor in the mechanical engineering department at the University, said.  “Particularly, the training program’s main goal is to build on doctoral students’ science and technology education, to prepare these NSF E-Fellows to become future STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) leaders and to help promote and grow STEM in Nevada.

“In doing that, we partner with Washoe County middle and high schools to bring the doctoral-level grad students’ energy-related research into K-12 classrooms via inquiry- and project-based activities.”

The three-year NSF GK-12 E-Fellowship Program, where the “E” stands for energy, will match six graduate students each year with STEM teachers in four Washoe County School District schools.

“This project aligns with the strategic mission of the college to prepare graduates for future STEM disciplines and it offers a unique collaboration between the University and the Washoe County School District,” Manos Maragakis, College of Engineering dean, said.

Leang heads a team of faculty members, Kwang Kim, Jeffrey LaCombe, Eric Wang from engineering, and Mike Robinson from the College of Education, who will all help design and run the program.

Research topics that may be presented include energy harvesting using smart materials, nanomaterials for photovoltaics, hydrogen energy and storage, biomass and biofuels, geothermal, wind energy, and efficient power grid systems.

This program will involve faculty from mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical, and materials engineering as well as the College of Science, College of Education and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.

As part of the program, a traveling energy science/technology lab, the E-Mobile, will be outfitted with energy-related demonstrations, exhibits and hands-on projects (some created by fellow/teacher partners and students) to excite students and the community.

“It’s a very competitive process, and we’re lucky to be awarded this fellowship program to support our students and the community, as it’s an important step in continuing to build education programs in Nevada that will compete nationally and internationally,” Leang said. “We’re hoping this three-year grant is just a first step and we’ll keep expanding for years to come.”


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