Grad Students Aim to Make Nanotech Fun, Accessible for Kids


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Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio was quoted as saying the reason he always gave 100 percent effort was, “There’s always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”

It was that kind of thinking that got Cornell graduate student Hao Shi excited about outreach. He volunteered to take part in an event at the Cornell Center for Materials Research for high school students, at the request of his labmate, and his demonstration of the laser capture microdissection microscope he used turned out to be a revelation, both for the students and for himself.

“It was not much of an effort for me, it’s really just what I do every day,” said Shi, a second-year student in physics. “But afterward, all the students told me that they thought it was really cool; they couldn’t stop talking about it.

“That got me thinking,” he said. “I realized it was routine to me because I know how to do it, but to the high school kids, that’s really cool science.”

Cornell is hoping to bring more “cool science” to young students in the area with the establishment of CNF Ambassadors, a new program being run by the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility. CNF staff members Lynn Rathbun and Beth Rhoades are coordinating the effort, which so far has attracted 12 grad students to engage with area K-12 students.

Seven of the volunteers took part in orientation in mid-December in the Duffield Hall Demo Room; the rest of the participants will get their introduction to the ambassador program in January.

Rathbun said that Cornell graduate students have engaged in outreach in the past, and the new program will give greater structure to the effort and make more efficient use of the volunteer help. Initially, the student ambassadors will engage with children visiting CNF, but eventually they will give demonstrations at area schools.

“We have the resources,” said Rathbun, CNF’s laboratory manager. “We have lots of materials and activities that the students and staff can use, and it’s a way to reach the community and get them involved in a little bit of what goes on here at Cornell and in science in general.”

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