Monday, June 22, 2009

Alphabet Soup

Summer time always reminds me of food at the Nanotechnology Research Center. As anyone who has ever been a user or a staff member will tell you, the NRC, like my Jewish mother, will feed you until you beg for mercy. If it is not the bagels on Friday morning, the BBQ lunches, the catered vendor seminars, or the birthday cakes, then it is the edibles (usually bad for my diet) left in the Micro CafĂ© for the random hungry passerby. However, the alphabet soup I am referring to here is not the kind from the familiar red and white Campbell’s can, but rather the acronyms of the summer visitors that populate the NRC hallways, carrels, and cleanroom this time of year. And this summer, thanks to the efforts of NNIN Education Coordinator Nancy Healy and many others, it seems as if the assortment is more varied than ever.

If you see someone new in the Pettit or Marcus building, introduce yourself and ask them what program they are on. If they give you a single syllable answer that would be more at home in a game of Scrabble, here is a lexicon to help you out.

TAG – When I was in high school, I spent the summers mowing the lawn, watching TV, and working in my home darkroom. Through the Technology Association of Georgia and its new program of high school internships, there is now an opportunity for engineering-minded teens to work alongside seasoned NRC staff.

RET – As any teacher will tell you, student’s summer vacation is rarely a time for teachers to lounge on the beach with a drink and a trashy novel. Most teachers I know use this time (usually unpaid) for professional development, and the Research Experience for Teachers is a great way to gain some first-hand understanding of microfabrication and nanotechnology that they can incorporate into their curricula for the fall.

REU – I remember my first research experience in college; I worked in the Oral Physiology Lab of the Dental School where I counted taste buds on neonatal rats. More importantly, there was no formal mechanism or supporting organizations to help me acquire this position. Thankfully, most universities now promote, support, and fund undergraduate research as an important component in students’ education. The NSF-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates is a program of mentored research in a wide variety of science and engineering fields to encourage students to pursue graduate education and careers in these areas.

SURE and LEF – As the demographics of this country change, it is vitally important that we improve diversity within every area of science and engineering, and I am pleased that Georgia Tech graduates the nation’s largest contingent of African-American engineers. The Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering/Science Program is designed to attract minority students to technical career areas. The Laboratory Experience for Faculty is an NNIN program to provide access to advanced research facilities to faculty from minority institutions, and the NRC has been privileged to host summer visitors in this program for the last two years.

At its heart, as a part of an institution of higher education, the NRC is a place to teach and to learn. This educational mission can come in many forms, from the research of undergraduate students, graduate students and post-docs (who are apprentices, after all) to preaching the benefits (and risks) of nanotechnology to future engineers and scientists (our school-age children), their teachers, and their parents (the voting and tax-paying public). Let's enjoy the summer's warm weather along with some alphabet soup.

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