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2. Campus Projects to Improve STEM Teacher Training and Professional Development Quality

Nano@Illinois Research Experience for Teachers (RET)

National Science Foundation Award #1407194
Xiuling Li
Micro and Nanotechnology Lab
Project Dates: May 1, 2014-April 30, 2017

The nano@illinois Research Experience for Teachers (RET) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will annually (from 2014-2017) expose a diverse set of in-service and pre-service science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers and community college faculty from across the nation to cutting-edge research in nanotechnology. The RET will focus on recruiting underrepresented minority populations (focused on ethnicity, geography, disability, and veteran status) including women and will target teachers from high-need areas, including inner city, rural, low-income, and those with significant URM students. Participants will conduct research over 6 weeks in world-class labs with 4 follow-up sessions during the school year. Participants will have possibilities to extend the RET for 2 years.

Teacher professional development will include teacher-focused lectures, ethics seminars, hands-on modules, STEM education issues, career choices, and resources for implementing a nano lab and curriculum. With interest and experience in K-14 education, faculty's and staff's commitment to this RET Site will ensure positive outcomes for the teachers and their students. The RET Site will leverage institutional knowledge and educational resources developed through the NSF Center for Nanoscale Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Systems (Nano-CEMMS). Teachers will develop modules to be disseminated widely. High-quality follow-up sessions and evaluation will be infused.

Evolutionary Genomics Collaborative: Origins, evolution and structure of viral and cellular proteomes

National Science Foundation Award # 1132791
Gustavo Caetano-Anolles
Department of Crop Sciences
Project Dates: July 1, 2012 - June 30, 2016 (Estimated)

Understanding the history of life on Earth and the emergence and evolution of biological function constitute fundamental challenges of biological research. One major goal is to characterize the origin, evolution and structure of complete repertoires of proteins (PROTEOMES) in the viral world and compare it to the repertoires of the cellular world, mapping their function, and studying how structure and function evolve along the branches of a truly universal TREE OF LIFE (ToL). The current ToL depicts the branching history of inheritance (phylogeny) of cellular lineages but does not incorporate the viral world. To integrate viral and cellular knowledge at global level, we here request funding to catalyze a 3-partner international collaboration between the University of Illinois (UIUC), the Korean Bioinformation Center (KOBIC), and the Pasteur Institute (Paris). This Evolutionary Genomics Collaborative (EGC) initiative will involve visits of UIUC team members to Korea and France to seed collaborative research and enhance educational opportunities for UIUC graduate students and early career personnel. We will integrate research and education through (i) mentoring experiences for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers that foster bioinformatics in the U.S. and abroad, (ii) undergraduate research and mentoring experiences to U.S. students, (iii) bioinformatics outreach programs, and (iv) research experiences in bioinformatics for Middle School teachers to enhance STEM in the classroom.

Broader Impacts: Synthesis is an essential component of scientific inquiry. Here we use molecular survey, history reconstruction, and computational analysis to integrate research related to evolution of the modern macromolecular world and of life. The direct linking of structure and function in macromolecules provides manifold benefits, both basic and applied, and is key to our understanding of cellular functions and how these evolve. For example, metabolism is responsible for the energetic demands of biological complexity, yet we know little of how it originated or evolved. The project broadens educational opportunities by exposing postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, undergraduates, and schoolteachers to international frontier research in evolutionary genomics and systems biology. Research will also impact the community through scientific meetings and conferences, public workshops, and other activities.

CAREER: Noticing and Using Students' Prior Knowledge in Problem-Based Instruction

National Science Foundation Award # 1253081
Gloriana Gonzalez Rivera
Department of Education
Project Dates: May 15, 2013 - April 30, 2018 (Estimated)

Advocates of problem-based instruction argue that the approach can help students develop a deeper understanding of mathematics, acquire more positive attitudes toward mathematics, and gain experience with more authentic applications of mathematics. Engaging students in problem-based instruction, however, increases challenges to teachers who must attend to the influence of student prior knowledge and adjust instruction accordingly. The proposed project will develop and study a professional development framework that is designed to help high school geometry teachers attend more carefully to student prior knowledge, interpret the learning implications of student prior knowledge, and adjust teaching practices accordingly. Participating teachers will learn to perform these complex tasks by participating in study groups to analyze animations of productive teaching practices; to collaborate in planning, implementing, and analyzing geometry lessons; and to critique videos of their own classroom instruction. Prior research has shown that collective examination of videos can help teachers increase attention on student thinking, a key to noticing and accommodating student prior knowledge.

A key, innovative feature of the professional development framework for this study is the use of animated vignettes of classroom instruction to prepare teachers to examine videos of their own practice. The advantage of using cartoon-based animations of classroom practices is that they can be designed to depict specific teaching actions while excluding the usual distractions in videos, such as physical features, clothing, or individual mannerisms. Also, teachers can develop a critical eye for relevant interactions without feeling the need to be overly polite when discussing fictional scenarios portrayed by cartoon characters. This preliminary practice will also enable teachers to develop a common language about noticing and responding to student prior knowledge before critiquing videos of their own classroom practices.

This project advances knowledge of professional development experiences that help teachers notice and take into account the prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. Results from studying the effects of coupling analysis of animated vignettes of classroom practices with critiquing videos on one's own classroom practices have the potential to significantly enhance professional development practices among mathematics teachers, as well as teachers in general. Results from the project will be broadly disseminated via conference presentations, articles in diverse media outlets, and a project website that will make project products available, be a location for information about the project for the press and the public, and be a tool to foster teacher-to-teacher communication. The results of this study, as well as the protocols and instruments developed during the research project, will inform and support the researcher's own efforts to better understand and improve teacher learning. The education plan of the researcher focuses on translating the outcomes of this study to the practices of preservice teacher education by connecting instructional decision-making more explicitly to research on student learning, thereby promoting learning trajectory based instruction.

CAREER: Molecular Rheology of Architecturally Complex Polymers

National Science Foundation Award # 1254340
Charles Schroeder
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Project Dates: April 1, 2013 - March 31, 2018 (Estimated)

Polymers underlie an untold number of technologies ranging from consumer products to electronics. Despite recent progress in the field, a full understanding of the flow properties of entangled polymer solutions is lacking. A major challenge in polymer processing arises from the unusually complex flow dynamics of branched polymers, wherein molecular topology ultimately determines macroscopic material response. Traditionally, bulk rheological methods have been used to study polymer flows, but these methods average away individual molecular motions. To overcome these challenges, a new molecular approach to probe dynamics is required.

Intellectual Merit. The proposed research aims to provide a molecular-level view of branched polymer dynamics in flow using single molecule methods. Polymer stress relaxation and the non-linear flow properties of entangled comb polymers will be studied, and single polymer data obtained from experiments will be compared to theoretical models. In this way, direct observation of backbone and branch relaxation at the molecular level will be pursued, facilitated by using dual-color fluorescent dyes on the backbone and side-chain branches. The proposed research relies on three innovative technologies developed in the PI's lab: (1) custom synthesis of linear and branched single stranded DNA (ssDNA) polymers with properties similar to synthetic chains, (2) dual-color labeling of branched ssDNA polymers at architecturally-specific locations such as backbones and branches, and (3) automated microfluidic-based flow systems that allow for controlled fluid flows, combined with single molecule imaging of polymer conformations with nanoscale resolution.

Broader Impacts. This research will provide a detailed molecular-level view of entangled topological networks, thereby establishing a direct link between the molecular properties of branched polymers and macroscopic flow properties (e.g., viscosity and stress). The proposed combined custom synthesis and molecular imaging approach will allow for the guided design of polymeric materials with tailored properties that give rise to a desired processing response. In this way, the proposed work will provide crucial insight into the improved processing and manufacturing of branched polymers. The proposed work also integrates cutting-edge research in molecular rheology with the educational training of graduate and undergraduate students, which is accomplished by mentoring students to work in a collaborative workspace. Educational outreach will be incorporated by working with the Illinois iRise program, which actively engages local K-12 high school science teachers in the Urbana-Champaign area to develop experimental labs for the classroom, and mentors middle and high school students from underrepresented groups, with a particular focus on sparking an interest in science through hands-on experiments. The proposed research also includes participation in the Multicultural Engineering Recruitment for Graduate Education (MERGE) program at the University of Illinois, which aims to recruit students from underrepresented groups in engineering.

CAREER: Scale Dependent Property-Performance Relationships in Individual Heterojunction Nanowire Photocatalysts

National Science Foundation Award # 1254406
Shen Dillon
Materials Science and Engineering
Project Dates: June 1, 2013 - May 31, 2018 (Estimated)

Efficiently converting sunlight and water into hydrogen is an attractive approach to producing 'green' fuels that could help support the future US economy. Commercially realizing this goal requires improved scientific understanding of the associated processes and the development of human capital capable of addressing the engineering challenges. A variety of catalysts have been known to perform photolysis (converting water to hydrogen) for several decades, but many remain too inefficient or expensive for commercial application. The properties of photocatalysts may be improved most effectively by controlling their electronic structure, which depends on variables such as particle size, shape, chemistry, defect structure, or their interactions with adjoining materials. The resultant photocatalytic performance is typically characterized over an ensemble of millions of particles, whose individual properties could vary significantly. Averaging over the entire system obscures the fundamental relationships between the electronic properties and the photocatalytic performance at the nanoparticle level. This project develops and utilizes new approaches to measuring the electronic properties and photocatalytic performance of individual nanoparticles in order to develop improved scientific understanding of the effects of size, defects, and interfaces on both the electronic structure and the associated photocatalytic performance. The activity integrates research and education through a research experience for education majors program while promoting diversity. It will enable Illinois teachers to bring authentic scientific research experience into the K-12 classroom, research experience for undergraduate students, and research support for a graduate student. As well, inquiry-based and active-learning approaches to education will be fostered by working closely with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (IFoundry). This multifaceted approach will have impact at all levels of the STEM pipeline.

CAREER: Particle-Resolved Models for Aerosol-Cloud Interactions

National Science Foundation Award # 1254428
Nicole Riemer
Department of Atmospheric Sciences
Project Dates: June 1, 2013 - May 31, 2018 (Estimated)

Whether aerosols are internally (multicomponent) or externally (one component) mixed impacts aerosol-cloud interactions. The approach of this CAREER project centers on developing innovative modeling tools for quantifying the impact of per-particle (single) aerosol microphysical and chemical properties on aerosol-cloud interactions, on the micro to global scale. The work is motivated by growing observational evidence that shows tremendous variations in the chemistry and dynamics at a single-particle level. At present, however, the impacts of these variations are largely unquantified since in current regional or global models this complexity is not well-represented. This contributes to the large uncertainties in assessing the impact of aerosols on climate, limiting us from predicting the future impacts of air pollution on climate change.

A comprehensive education and outreach plan that focuses on enhancing "climate literacy" along with the the recruitment of students into the STEM fields is integrated with this research. The educational program targets students and teachers at the middle-school level, students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the wider community.

Advancing Arctic Paleoecology: An Integrative Approach to Understanding Species Refugia and Population Dynamics in Response to Late-Quaternary Climate Change

National Science Foundation Award # 1418339
Feng Sheng Hu
Department of Plant Biology
Project Dates: August 1, 2014 - July 31, 2018 (Estimated)

This project will use an innovative approach to investigate glacial refugia and population dynamics associated with vegetation responses to late-Quaternary climate change in Alaska and adjacent Canada. The research will test the following hypotheses based on data from two target species (Picea glauca and Alnus viridis): (1) Multiple Last Glacial Maximum refugia existed for each species in isolated areas nested in a complex topography, and the locations of these refugia differed between species; (2) Some of the refugial populations expanded to form modern species ranges whereas others remained largely restricted to their Last Glacial Maximum locations; (3) Within and between species, refugial populations spread at different rates and in different directions during the early postglacial period; and (4) Glacial refugia existed in areas with low climate velocity, and the directions and rates of postglacial colonization were determined by the spatial patterns of climate velocity. Graduate and undergraduate students will receive transdisciplinary training and gain a broad perspective to global change study. This project will provide intellectual focus, financial resources, and mentorship for the career development of three young investigators. Research results will be disseminated broadly to the scientific community, the public, and land managers. The centerpiece of the outreach activities is a workshop to educate high school teachers on Arctic climate and ecological changes. Through these teachers, a large group of midwestern students will be exposed to the excitement of Arctic research. Materials from the workshop will be disseminated online to a broad audience.

The approach will integrate genomic analysis, species distribution modeling that involves remote-sensing techniques, climate-velocity mapping, and existing fossil data in a hierarchical Bayesian modeling framework. The proposed research will uncover cryptic glacial refugia in the study region, elucidate the landscape and climate contexts for refugial populations, and offer new insights into population dynamics in late-Quaternary vegetation development. The project promises to provide spatially explicit, population-level details of species range shifts in relation to climate change that cannot be reliably acquired using conventional paleoecological analyses. Equally important, this project may serve as a model demonstrating the utility of a crosscutting approach to investigate the impacts of climate change on plant population processes in the paleorecord. The novel approach that will be developed through this project presents an opportunity to advance Arctic paleoecology and foster next generation research and training in the discipline.

Exploration of Pressure- and Field-Tuned Phenomena and Phases in Mn- and V-based Spinels

National Science Foundation Award # 1464090
S. Lance Cooper
Department of Physics
Project Dates: September 1, 2015 - August 31, 2018 (Estimated)

"Magnetically responsive" materials have magnetic and conducting properties that can be sensitively tuned with pressure and magnetic field, and exhibit a range of scientifically interesting and technologically useful properties, including coexisting magnetic and electric orders, magnetic-field-induced shape and conductivity changes, and strain controlled magnetism. Understanding the physical mechanisms responsible for these exotic properties is not only important scientifically, but is an essential prerequisite to optimizing these materials for use in technological applications. This project combines the use of high pressures, high magnetic fields, and visible laser light to identify and control the underlying mechanisms responsible for magnetically responsive behavior in a select group of magnetically responsive materials. Among the goals of this project are to identify the key physical mechanisms that give rise to magnetically responsive behavior, to control these mechanisms in order to create novel properties of scientific and technological interest, and to investigate as-yet-unexplored phase regions to uncover new, and potentially useful, physical properties. The diverse techniques employed in this research - including high-pressure techniques using diamond anvil cell technology, high-magnetic-field and low-temperature methods, optical and laser techniques, and materials growth methods - provide the graduate and undergraduate student researchers outstanding training for a diverse range of careers in academia, industry, or national laboratories. This project is also dedicated to imparting scientific literacy and enthusiasm for science in both the general public and K-12 students, through public lectures on science, middle-school scientific demonstrations, and lab tours that highlight the excitement of the materials studied and the scientific techniques used in this project.

PIRE: Integrated Computational Materials Engineering for Active Materials and Interfaces in Chemical Fuel Production

National Science Foundation Award # 1545907
N Aluru
Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering
Project Dates: October 1, 2015 - September 30, 2020 (Estimated)

A major challenge before renewable energy technologies can be implemented at global scales is to find a way to store the energy produced by intermittent sources such as the wind and the sun. Existing technologies fail to meet the energy storage demand and novel solutions are needed. An attractive technology that can potentially meet the growing demand is solid oxide electrolysis, where electrical energy produced by renewables is converted into chemical energy and stored for later use. Solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs) are complex, integrated material systems that use electrical energy as input to catalyze chemical reactions that produce chemical fuels. However, at present SOECs last for only a few hundreds of hours primarily because of degradation and failure at interfaces and in the bulk. In this project, an international partnership, comprising the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California at Berkeley, and Northwestern University in the U.S. and Kyushu University in Japan, has been formed to demonstrate an integrated approach to enabling SOEC technology. This PIRE award uniquely combines the world-class experimental resources and expertise at KU with the complimentary experimental expertise at UCB and NU, and the world-class computational facilities and expertise at Illinois to solve the energy storage grand challenge. This project will have a lasting institutional impact, including long-term synergistic collaborations between U.S. and Japan; extensive research and training for students and early career investigators in cutting-edge interdisciplinary topics in an international collaborative context, and outreach to K-12 teachers, science museums and summer camps. The integrated PIRE project will advance research in a number of disciplinary areas, including materials, physics, chemistry, engineering and computational science, and create a global citizenry to power the future.

This project will develop an integrated computational and experimental approach to design efficient, reliable, low temperature, extended lifetime SOECs. The novel aspects of the proposal are: 1) Computational and experimental design of novel proton and oxygen-ion conducting electrolytes. This effort will involve the design and development of proton conducting oxides with sufficient stability, operating temperature of 600?aC or lower, higher energy efficiencies at acceptable current density and high proton conductivity. 2) Computational and experimental design of novel electrodes focusing on chemistry and microstructure. This effort will involve the design and development of high-activity electrodes based on microstructure optimization and materials activity. In addition, a detailed understanding of new electrodes such as the Ruddlesden-Popper structures and ordered perovskites will be developed. 3) Computational models and experimental validation of degradation modes in SOECs. This will involve the development of a comprehensive understanding of degradation modes at electrolyte/electrode interfaces focusing on relationships between temperature and applied potential to cation segregation, bubble formation, delamination and fracture. The computational effort is strongly tied with the experimental effort and all computational predictions will be validated with experiments. Undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers will be engaged in a rich US-Japan exchange program and their PIRE research and education experience will prepare them for challenging positions in the global workplace. Outreach activities will focus on K-12 engagement, teacher training, disseminating knowledge via science museums, and summer camps.