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Donnel White, a science teacher at John M. Smyth Elementary School in Chicago, prepares to test the circuit he built as part of the CICSTEME365 workshop.

Top Stories

(Note: Web articles are organized in descending order from the most recent to older articles.)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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CIMED student participating in the fall 2020 student-centered Health Make-a-Thon sponsored by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CIMED).Carle Illinois Student-Centered Health Make-A-Thon Addresses Racism as a Health Crisis

December 30, 2020

Racism as a Health Crisis—this was the theme of the fall 2020, student-centered Health Make-a-Thon sponsored by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CIMED). Coming up with innovative ideas and solutions to address this year’s theme were eight teams of CIMED students, engineering students, health care professionals, and community members. The Saturday, December 5th virtual event was held via Zoom this year due to COVID-19, with a “Dolphin” Tank comprised of CIMED, university, industry, and community experts serving as judges to determine which teams would receive the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards of $5000, $3000, and $2000, respectively.

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Jong HwangLiebenberg's ME270 Students Repurpose Products for Final Design Project

December 17, 2020

For students in Leon Liebenberg’s ME 270 (Design for Manufacturability) course, nothing could be more apropos than the old saying, “One man's trash is another man's treasure." For the final mini-project of the semester, the mostly Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) students were to repurpose trash (a discarded product or products) into a product with a non-medical application. So, in an online competition held via Zoom during the final class period on December 8th, the top five projects were presented, after which classmates, the professor and his TAs, and special visitors invited to the session voted for their favorite. The treasure? The top three winners not only received accolades, but students with stellar final projects could contribute significantly to their final grade...and possibly come up with a repurposing design that could somehow make a difference down the road.

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CEE student describes what being an Illinois student is like.IMAGINE Family STEM Nights Strive to Interest Underrepresented Students in Engineering

"Scientists in textbooks and on TV don't look like me." "No one in my family has done it." "Math is hard, and you can't do science if you're not good at math." "Only A+ students go to STEM." "The 'cool' kids don't go to STEM." "Math is for 'nerds.'" "A math degree won't pay the bills." "I don't want to work in a lab." "I'll need to go to grad school and that means a lot of student debt." "STEM degrees are more expensive." "I'll never get into X University." "I'll never get a scholarship." – Rafael Tinoco Lopez on misconceptions about STEM.

December 14, 2020

While young African-American, Latino/a, and Indigenous students might face a lot of real challenges in regards to choosing careers in STEM, according to Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Rafael Tinoco Lopez, some misconceptions concerning representation, skills, social life, future perspectives, and resources could be contributing to their not considering STEM careers. To rectify this, he and numerous other folks from both the University and the community are taking part in IMAGINE (Identifying Misconceptions of Access of Underrepresented Groups in Engineering) Family STEM Nights. Their goal? To foster inclusion of underrepresented students in engineering by helping middle grade students and their families learn more about engineering, especially specific disciplines. Plus, IMAGINE isn't just focusing on familiarizing students with what engineering is. Planners hope to address misconceptions about skills needed to be an engineer; foster discussion regarding issues of equity, access, and representation in engineering; and talk about resources available for first-time college students.

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STEAM TRAIN: Middle Schoolers Perform Autonomous, Student-Driven Research Encouraged by Near Peers STEAM TRAIN: Middle Schoolers Perform Autonomous, Student-Driven Research Encouraged by Near Peers

December 2, 2020

“So, it’s kind of a combination of working with these different levels of students and giving them the reins rather than us telling them what they should do.” – Daniel Urban

Every Tuesday afternoon after school, six groups of around 24 excited Franklin STEAM Academy students hang around online a bit longer to conduct independent research on topics of import to them via a scientific exploration project called “STEAM TRAIN.” Mentoring the 6th–8th grade students are some near peers—Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) undergrads, grad students, and post docs, plus—even closer in age to the target group—a dozen University Laboratory High School (Uni High) students. The hope is that experiencing research by exploring issues they’re passionate about might foster the middle schoolers’ love of science—and possibly even solve some of today’s intractable problems.

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Alec Tiffany demonstrates to Franklin students how to begin their sourdough starter.ENVISION PhD Students Use the Science of Breadmaking to Attract Franklin Eighth Graders to STEM

November 20, 2020

You pull a couple of slices of bread out of the bag. You slather them with peanut butter and jelly, or construct a BLT, then take a big bite. But did you ever wonder how flour is transformed from loose powder to semi-structured slices that can hold sandwich fixin’s? Exactly what is the science behind breadmaking?

During fall 2020, four Illinois engineering PhD students, Emil Annevelink, James Carpenter, Drew Kuhn, and Aleczandria Tiffany, did a Zoom outreach at Franklin STEAM Academy, a Champaign middle school whose focus is on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). The goal behind the October and November virtual visits was to impart the science behind breadmaking to Katie Lessaris’ eighth grade science classes. Members of ENVISION (ENgineers Volunteering In STEM EducatION), a Registered Student Organization whose sole purpose is to provide opportunities for engineering grad students to do STEM outreach, the PhD students sought to not just communicate science, but to share how they ended up in engineering, serve as role models in that they too had overcome challenges, and to foster the middle schoolers’ interest in STEM. Of course, the fact that sourdough bubbles and smells added to the fun!

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Marilyn Porras-Gómez in the animated video segment that was part of her Virtual Cena y Ciencias Provides Hispanic Role Models, Encourages Hands-on “Kitchen Science”—All Done in Spanish

November 12, 2020

Why does holding your nose when taking medicine make it not taste as bad? What is surface tension on liquids? What do scientists do in labs? What are crystals and how do they form?

Noted above are just some of the questions I-MRSEC’s Virtual Cena y Ciencias (CyC) hopes to answer during its Spanish-language, science outreach events for local Hispanic and dual-language-program school children. But, to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing mandates, CyC, scheduled for the first Monday of the month throughout the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, is being held online until further notice. Despite the change of venue, the COVID-19-friendly events, like their no-social-distancing-required predecessors, feature lectures and/or demonstrations followed by hands-on science—with a caveat. The "kitchen science" activities feature science that can be done with materials available in most homes. Plus, in addition to the exposure to science, the youngsters will experience it in Spanish, offered by Hispanic scientists who serve as role models.

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Nobel Project Seeks to Pique Marginalized Students’ Interest in Computer Science Nobel Project Seeks to Pique Marginalized Students’ Interest in Computer Science

November 9, 2020

“Really, one of the goals of the Nobel Project is to provide young people with unprecedented access to the University of Illinois—the land grant mission...If our youth are to become computer scientists, to become the next Nobel Laureate, to become sociologists—whatever it is that their gifts and talents are urging them to be—we can support them in that effort.” — Ruby Mendenhall

According to statistics, very few faculty and industry professionals in Computer Science (CS) are from marginalized populations. For instance, only around 2% of employees in CS are Black; plus, percentages from marginalized groups are also low in medicine and other STEM fields. Seeking to address this issue is STEM Illinois’ Nobel Project, headed up by Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Democratization of Health Innovation at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED), and an Associate Professor in African-American Studies in the Department of Sociology. The Project’s goals over the next two years are to hold workshops and other activities designed to get young people from marginalized groups interested in CS.

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Alma the dog Students Experience Interdisciplinary Animal Research Via Alma’s Talking Dogs RSO

October 27, 2020

No, Alma’s Talking Dogs is not a circus act. It's actually an EOH exhibit, turned animal research project, turned RSO—probably the most uniquely named RSO on campus. But for Illinois students who are passionate about interdisciplinary research, it fills the bill, not only providing an opportunity to conduct research, but to collaborate with like-minded students across a variety of disciplines, as well as do public engagement. Plus, it enables members to get their periodic doggie fix.

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Jemima PhilippeI-MRSEC Workshop Seeks to Help Researchers Improve Their Public Engagement

The program addresses the needs of scientists who are motivated to engage but lack the resources to develop their skills and create plans for action.” – Gemima Philippe

October 22, 2020

Intent on improving their scientific communication, particularly public engagement, 22 folks, mostly researchers from I-MRSEC (the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) participated in the Center's Science Communication and Public Engagement Fundamentals workshop on October 16, 2020. Presented by Gemima Philippe, a Public Engagement Communication Associate from the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), the online workshop addressed the importance of Science Communication, then tackled key areas participants should focus on in order to improve their own.  

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Amy Wagoner JohnsonMechSE’s Amy Wagoner Johnson Teaches Grad Students How to Communicate Their Science

“Science isn’t finished until it’s communicated. The communication to wider audiences is part of the job of being a scientist, and so how you communicate is absolutely vital.” – Sir Mark Walport

October 12, 2020

The above assertion by Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government, is a favorite quote of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) Professor Amy Jaye Wagoner Johnson's. In fact, it might be considered the philosophy behind her ME598 AWJ Science Communication course. A while back, she decided that one aspect of graduate students’ education that was sadly lacking was communicating their research—both to colleagues, fellow engineers/scientists, and to Joe Blow (or Josephine), the average citizen on the street. So she began to explore science communication, augmenting her own knowledge and skills, then passing them on to her students. Today, the Science Communication aficionado teaches her course to grateful graduate students who count it a crossroads on their journey to more effectively communicating their work.

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Charismatic Neotropical Poison FrogsIB Professor Eva Fischer Espouses Frogs—for Both Research and the K–12 Classroom

“We talk a lot about what we can do at the university level to increase diversity in STEM to reach other populations, etc. But I think if we don't worry about that until kids are 18 and we're at the university level, we've missed the boat. So I just think that we've got to start earlier.” — Eva Fischer

October 7, 2020

There’s a new Integrative Biology professor in town—Eva Fischer—who is sold on frogs. She’s not only setting up a lab in order to research frog behaviors, but she champions their use in the Frogger School Program she’s helped to design for use in K–12 classrooms.

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Onur Tosun shows off his winning entry: I-MRSEC’s Virtual Coffee & Cookies Hour Encourages Collegial Communication Among Researchers; Bake-Your-Research Contest Fosters Fun!

October 6, 2020

A sign of the times? To encourage collegial collaboration and facilitate socialization among researchers, yet abide by COVID-19 social distancing mandates, on Friday, October 2, from 4:30–5:30, I-MRSEC (Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) held its first-ever virtual MRSEC Coffee and Cookies Hour. For the 16 or so participants hunkered down behind their computers at home (or their office) to video chat with colleagues, ostensibly, it was BYO coffee and cookies (C&C).

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Carla Desi-Ann HunterLecture Series Highlights Women in Science at Illinois; Makes University Archives More Diverse

October 1, 2020

If you’re interested in innovative scientific research at Illinois and would like to find out more about the exceptional women who conduct it, sign up to attend the Women in Science Lecture Series via Zoom at noon on the second Tuesday of every month. Sponsored by the University Archives and funded by a grant from the Library Innovation Fund, the series is the brainchild of Bethany Anderson, an archivist who focuses on the history of science and technology on campus, and Kristen Allen Wilson, the coordinator of the Illinois Distributed Museum website. The new virtual lecture series was not only intended to highlight women in science at Illinois; its creators hope it, along with video records and other material which will be available via their websites, has a more lasting impact—to help diversify both Archives and Museum holdings and to provide a resource for educators. Thus, over the long-term, they hope to help increase the number of women choosing careers in STEM.

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