Stories from...2021

I-STEM articles from 2021, organized in descending order chronologically.

TechTogether Chicago TechTogether Chicago to Redefine the Hacker Stereotype

July 10, 2021

The nonprofit organization TechTogether formed with the aim to increase diversity in the hackathon community with their events and chapters. Now, the new chapter TechTogether Chicago aims to grow upon this mission with their work in organizing one of the few gender-focused hackathons in Illinois. In addition, TechTogether Chicago will be using the virtual environment as an opportunity to innovate and produce new workshops that can help inspire students to pursue careers in technology.


Aerospace Engineering Launches Virtual Summer Camps to Pique Students’ Interest in Aero

July 2, 2021

Design an aircraft then watch it soar after launching it with a huge rubber band. Build a Mars lander to safely transport a real egg, then test the contraption by dropping it from a second story window. Zoom chat with a NASA flight director whose office provides a perfect view of mission control. These are just some of the informative and educational, yet fun activities 130 virtual campers from across the country got to experience during Aerospace Engineering’s (Aero’s) three summer 2021 camps.


Ashlie Hamilton Undergrads Experience Materials Science Research Courtesy of the I-MRSEC REU

June 16, 2021

Ten undergraduate students who signed up for the I-MRSEC (Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) virtual Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) are spending the summer of 2021 discovering what research is like. In addition, they're being given the opportunity to build a network plus gain skills that they'll most likely find helpful down the road—whether they go into a career in science or not. Participants are also hopefully getting a better idea of what they want to do career-wise. Some may even be determining whether grad school might be in their future, or if research—specifically Materials Science research—might be the career for them.


Associate Professors Schleife and Leal MatSE Afterschool Academy to Introduce Students to Materials Science and Beyond

June 14, 2021

Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) Associate Professors André Schleife and Cecília Leal are currently working on developing the MatSE Afterschool Academy, which will help students learn more about MatSE as well as the college application process for students interested in the University of Illinois. Selected as a GIANT project, and funded by the IDEA Institute, Schleife and Leal will work towards providing students with the resources needed in future endeavors in MatSE.


Taylor Tucker Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interests—Engineering and Engineering Education—While Researching Task Collaboration

June 7, 2021

When Taylor Tucker arrived at Illinois for a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Mechanics, she was passionate about one thing: engineering. Then she met Education Associate Professor Emma Mercier and discovered something else—engineering education research. While pursuing this interest, she found another kindred spirit—ISE Teaching Assistant Professor Molly Goldstein, who's also passionate about engineering education. Now, two degrees later, and planning on tackling a third, Tucker is still passionate about and successfully pursuing both disciplines, has figured out a way to somehow combine the two, and is making a difference in both areas.


A seventh grader watches the chemical reaction as the Alka Seltzer tablet dissolves in the water.
NSBE’s Michaela Horn Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS, and What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like

May 25, 2021

On May 12th of the Spring 2021 semester, during a busy week of finals, Michaela Horn, an Illinois CS student and member of the Illinois chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) took a break from studying to squeeze in Zoom visits to several 7th grade science classes of Malik Berry and Jacob Henss at Franklin STEAM Academy, a Champaign middle school with an emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). In addition to leading students—both in person and via Zoom—in hands-on activities, Horn divulged what it was like to be an Engineering student at Illinois, talked about the support NSBE was providing her, plus answered both students’ and teachers’ questions. Probably most important of all, though, she—a Black woman in Engineering—served as a role model for the younger students.


Jenny Saves a Convertible Cover Convertibles and Thunderstorms—Children’s-Book-Writing Duo on Their Way Thanks to Illinois Training and Encouragement from Mentors

May 19, 2021

When Taylor Tucker arrived at Illinois for a Bachelor’s in Engineering Mechanics, she dreamed of writing a children’s book. Then, she ran into BioE’s Jenny Amos, who encouraged her to pursue her life-long dream. When Nicole Dowling arrived on campus, she dreamed of drawing for a living. So, inspired by Graphic Design’s Eric Benson, who had assigned a project about sustainability, she decided to try a children’s book. Then, thanks to several serendipitous circumstances, the two met, and a children’s-book-writing collaboration was born. Their first book, Jenny Saves a Convertible was about STEM and overcoming adversity. The combination—STEM and overcoming, and even more so Dowling and Tucker—was so successful that their second book will also address STEM and overcoming—this time about a little girl and her fear of thunderstorms. Jenny and the Thunderstorm, perhaps?


Liebenberg Espouses Mini-Projects to Engage Students Emotionally, Improve Learning in Engineering

May 17, 2021

Mechanical Science and Engineering’s (MechSE) Professor Leon Liebenberg is a proponent of project-based learning—a student-centered pedagogy that suggests students learn better when they have the autonomy to actively explore real-world challenges and problems. So, in two of his lecture courses, ME 200 (Thermodynamics) and ME 400 (Energy Conversion Systems), a key component of both is mini-projects and E-portfolios. Why? He says they engage students emotionally. He goes on to explain the advantages doing so.


Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.
BIOE435 Capstone Projects—BIOE Seniors Use Knowledge/Skills to Problem Solve

May 12, 2021

There comes a point in a Bioengineering (BIOE) student’s career at Illinois when they get to demonstrate all the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired, in combination with their creativity and acuity in problem-solving, to come up with a viable solution to a real-world problem. Assistant Professor Holly Golecki’s BIOE 435 Senior Capstone Projects course is one such pivotal point for BIOE seniors—it’s a final chance to prove themselves prior to entering the real world as engineers. Thus, for the students, as well as their professor, the most exciting event of the Spring 21 semester was finally getting to present their completed projects at the May 4th BIOE Senior Design Virtual Symposium—something they’d worked toward for not just a semester—but their entire four years at Illinois, actually.


At Cena y Ciencias, Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence
At Cena y Ciencias, Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence

May 7, 2021

What is fluorescence? What causes it? On May 3rd, during the final Cena y Ciencias (CyC) outreach of the semester, students from Dual Language programs in several local schools got a chance to explore the unique property. Shedding light on the subject during the virtual (Zoom) outreach, and demonstrating the hands-on activities, were several native-Spanish-speaking scientists from Illinois. In addition to teaching kids some science and leading some fun hands-on activities—all taught completely in Spanish—the scientists also served as role models, demonstrating for the youngsters that if people who come from similar backgrounds and speak in their language can be scientists, they can too.


Megha Mattikalli and Rishin Pandit HackIllinois 2021 “Rekindled Connections” With The Tech Community

May 5, 2021

What exactly is HackIllinois? A student-run hackathon event developed to empower computer science students to produce technological solutions to problems society is facing, within one weekend. So, from April 9th to April 11th students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign organized the annual student hackathon HackIllinois with the aim of developing projects on current problems facing society. Focusing on “Rekindling Connections” hundreds of participants from Illinois and beyond were able to network with industry professionals, mentors, and companies, while learning new skills through the workshops provided. HackIllinois staff as well learned how to adjust the once-in person event to a virtual event while maintaining the original mission of HackIllinois.


A digital visualization of a black holeIllinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos

April 26, 2021

“The Art-Science Festival organizers invite you to celebrate the mysteries of the universe. From the quantum building blocks of matter to the elements of life on Earth to supernovae in faraway galaxies, our presenters will explore some of the biggest ideas in science. Through a dynamic mix of dance, music, fine arts, storytelling, and discussion, we will blur classical boundaries and take you on a journey through the cosmos.” – Festival organizers

The convergence of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and the Arts has made STEAM a buzzword over the last several years, especially in educational circles. However, to many scientists, researchers, and artists, art is not just an educational tool, but a viable means of expressing science. Enter a new buzzword: SciArt. So, during Illinois Physics’ first-ever Art-Science Festival @ Illinois 2021: The Illuminated Universe on April 23rd–25th, 34 presenters—artists, scientists, and sometimes a hybrid of the two—joined forces to present SciArt via a virtual “celebration of Nature, Humanity, and the Universe, explored through a confluence of the arts and sciences.”


Engineering seniors Courtney Leverenz, Shivani Ganesh, Eugenia Maldonado, and Berat Gulecyuz by the Engineering Hall sign.Ready. Set. Go! Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World

April 22, 2021

Every year, Illinois graduates a crop of female engineers who are skilled, well prepared, knowledgeable about not just their field, but engineering overall, and well equipped to navigate the vagaries of the engineering world. The spring 2021 crop is even more well prepared, having weathered the adversity of completing part of their junior year and all of their senior year under COVID-19 restrictions. Meet Shivani Ganesh, Berat Gulecyuz, Courtney Leverenz, and Eugenia Maldonado—future engineers who are eager to get out there and make a difference—to change the world for the better! Below, the four friends share why they came to Illinois, some of their achievements, challenges they overcame, a key nugget of what they learned at Illinois that they know they’ll be using down the road, their dream job/how they intend to change the world, and advice for incoming engineering freshmen.


Victoria FieldsHML 2021 Virtual Health Make-a-Thon Gives Citizen Scientists a Shot at Making Their Health-Related Innovations a Reality

April 19, 2021

Eyes on the prize, twenty teams of “citizen scientists” from across the state—students, healthcare workers, educators, entrepreneurs, community members, and professionals—participated in the Spring 2021 Virtual Health Make-a-Thon competition on Saturday, August 17th. The prize? A Maker Lab Innovation coin that would entitle the bearer to $10,000-worth of resources from the University of Illinois’s Health Maker Lab (HML) network. The citizen scientists' goal? To come up with a health innovation that would make a difference.


I-MRSEC’s Music Video for EOH ’21 Plugs Graphene, 2D Materials

April 7, 2021

Although 2021’s Engineering Open House (EOH) was not the traditional live, on-campus event but virtual due to COVID-19, I-MRSEC researchers who are passionate about STEM outreach didn’t let that stop them. Unable to engage in person with the public, specifically the numerous children who usually attend, they figured out how to meet with them face to face anyway—via a music video. Their goals? To communicate about 2D materials research, to show the public how tax dollars are being spent, and to share benefits to be gained from scientific research. They also hoped youngsters watching might be intrigued, and eventually pursue careers in research. Along with inspiring the public, they hoped to rekindle their own excitement by reminding themselves why they’d chosen science careers


Chris GeorgeHML 2021 Health Make-a-Thon Orientation Prepares Finalists for Competition

March 30, 2021

Hopeful that “the next big idea in healthcare” could be theirs, on March 25th, the 20 finalists for the virtual Health Make-a-Thon competition to be held later in the spring (April 17, 2021) participated in an orientation session. Sponsored by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED) and Illinois’ Health Maker Lab (HML), the Make-a-Thon Orientation familiarized the 20 teams of “citizen scientists” with key personnel, resources, competition logistics, and three special speakers provided contestants with relevant information that would come in handy during the Make-a-Thon, as well as their journey toward entrepreneurship.


Andrea Perry shows Franklin students how to take apart the magnetic drawing board they received in their kitMusical Magnetism: Encouraging Franklin Middle Schoolers to Express Science Via the Arts

March 24, 2021

What does art have to do with science? And vice versa? Some might opine, “Absolutely nothing!” However, those who orchestrated and taught I-MRSEC’s spring 2021 Musical Magnetism curriculum to Franklin STEAM Academy’s seventh and eighth graders would beg to differ. They suggest that art—including music videos, haiku, glass sculptures—even tap dance—can be used to communicate about science. Thus, as part of the program, several Materials Science experts shared about their favorite science topics, with some addressing how specific arts might be used to express them. By the program’s end, students had not only learned about science—they’d even tried their hand at describing the science they’d experienced via various art forms.


Carmen PaquettePaquette Conveys Her Love of Science, Dance to Franklin STEAM Students Via Musical Magnetism

"As a kid, I found science fascinating; it felt like a good mystery book, and the more I learned, the more I understood about the world, as well as myself.” – Carmen Paquette

“I have always loved to dance. My parents constantly had music playing in the house growing up, and they often tell me that I came into the world dancing.” – Carmen Paquette

March 9, 2021

Carmen Paquette loves science. (Her dad, a material scientist, used to quiz her on the names and atomic numbers of the elements.) Carmen Paquette also loves tap dancing. (Her parents claim she came into the world dancing.) And she’s particularly passionate about expressing science via the arts—specifically, tap dance. So, when I-MRSEC planners decided that their spring 2021 edition of the Musical Magnetism curriculum at Franklin STEAM Academy would emphasize using the arts to convey science ideas, it makes sense that they would invite the summer 2019 I-MRSEC REU participant back to be involved. So, on February 18th, the materials scientist/professional tap dancer shared how she combines her two passions—science and dance—using dance to illustrate scientific concepts.


An Engineering Exploration participant exhibits the tower they built as part of the engineering challenge related to Civil Engineering.SWE’s Engineering Exploration Outreach Lives Up to Its Name

March 2, 2021

“What is engineering?” This is one question SWE Illinois sought to answer during its virtual Engineering Exploration outreach on Saturday, February 20, 2021. Their simple explanation was: “It’s the application of science and math to solve problems.” Their bit-more-in-depth exploration of this question included introducing the 77 middle school participants to several engineering disciplines and what engineers in these fields do. Sponsored by the Illinois chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE), with the assistance of other engineering students, the outreach taught the younger students briefly about a few disciplines; led them in some related hands-on activities; and showed them that engineers can come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ethnicities.


Isabel Diaz, a 5th year Civil & Environmental Engineering senior and long-time WYSE volunteer leads the young participants in the Hot Cocoa Machine mini-workshopChiS&E’s Family STEM Day Helps Chicago Youngsters Progress Along the STEM Pipeline Toward Engineering

February 23, 2021

For Chicago kids (and parents) stuck inside because of the frigid winter weather, the ChiS&E Family Winter STEM Day on February 13th came just in the nick of time. A win-win for both the kids and their folks, the virtual outreach provided sessions and activities that were both educational and entertaining. For instance, parents discovered resources that might make sending their kids downstate to Illinois affordable. Plus, while doing creative, hands-on activities and bonding with the family over STEM, their kids learned a bit about the various engineering disciplines they were exploring. And hopefully, after successfully completing the activities, the kids discovered that they too have what it takes to become engineers someday.


Kathy WalshOn Her First Foray into STEAM, Kathy Walsh Acquaints Franklin Students with Microscopy, Haiku

On this microscope
The lens moves up step by step,
Saves what's in focus.

February 17, 2021

The above haiku by Kathy Walsh describes one of the toys the MRL scientist gets to play with day in, day out—a 3D Optical Profiler. Specializing in nano/microscale surface topography, she uses the instrument to help researchers in their materials analysis by taking very accurate 3D measurements of the roughness or height of a material’s or specific object’s surface. So, when presented with the opportunity to participate in I-MRSEC’s Musical Magnetism curriculum and share her love of microscopy with Franklin STEAM Academy seventh and eighth graders, she jumped at the chance. Also thrilled that the program’s STEAM emphasis meant adding the Arts to STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), she further embraced the opportunity to expose the young people to another passion of hers—writing haiku about science.


A CPS student shares during the December 5th session.Illinois Undergrads Encourage ChiS&E CPS Students Toward Possible Careers in Engineering

January 19, 2021

“This is an opportunity to contribute to the narrowing of the opportunity gaps.” – Lara Hebert.

Instead of sleeping in or vegging out on Saturday mornings during fall, 2020, Lara Hebert and around 16 or so engineering undergrads in the WYSE LEADers program, along with several others, exposed around 80 Chicago Public School (CPS) students to engineering. Devoting their mornings to virtual classes, the volunteers led the middle and high schoolers in some fun, hands-on activities ranging from Scratch to circuits to Arduinos. Have no idea what those are, what they do, and/or how they work? Well, about 80 CPS students now do, thanks to Hebert and her cohorts. Plus, students learned about engineering careers, tips on how to apply to Illinois, and what being a student at Illinois might be like.


Charles Hallowell shares with CISTEME365 educators during the PD session.CISTEME365 Provides Year-Round PD/Community to Illinois Teachers in Support of Informal STEM Education Efforts to Underserved Students

January 4, 2021

As part of its year-round emphasis, CISTEME365 (Catalyzing Inclusive STEM Experiences All Year Round) held an all-day professional development (PD) session on Wednesday, December 2nd, for educators from eight participating schools. An initiative of the University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering, in partnership with NAPE (the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity), CISTEME365 provided the PD session via Zoom, incorporating videos and printed materials, as well as using materials from kits that had been mailed participants. The goal of the session was to provide educators with equity/inclusion training, plus allow them to experience for themselves hands-on, project-based learning activities prior to having the students in their clubs try them out.