RET Field Trips and Workshops

Dr. Corke of FlowPAC, explains how wind turbines work to the RET teachers.

Dr. Corke, director of FlowPAC, explains how wind turbines work to the RET teachers.

To ensure that the Research Experience for Teachers participants left Notre Dame with a well-rounded perspective of energy issues, we organized some in house presentations and mini-field trips for them. At the beginning of the summer, the teachers met with Jonathan Geels from the South Bend Municipal Energy Office to learn more about the city’s energy plan. They also met with Kellie and Russ from Home Energy, LLC to learn how solar contractors go about creating estimates of home energy needs and how they determine the amount of solar panels needed to provide power. Both of these presentations gave the teachers ideas of how to incorporate some place-based, real-world energy applications into their curriculum.

Later in the summer, the teachers were able to tour the Notre Dame Power Plant. This gave the teachers an opportunity to step into the bowels of electricity production. They came away with a better understanding of how electricity is generated including the safety measures that power plants must take.

Even a few weeks into the summer, some of the teachers were still feeling timid about transforming their research into useful curriculum. The folks at gave a webinar to the RET teachers that explained the process of developing curriculum for their site. Three published teachers gave examples of how they used their technical research experience and transformed it into useful curriculum for K-12 students.

A Fast Paced Day Packed with Opportunity

Toward the end of the summer RET session, we scheduled a full day to tour places around campus and South Bend to showcase organizations that are researching and using energy efficient technology. Two other local teachers joined us.

The tours started at the South Bend Transpo Center. The LEED platinum certified building is one of the most unique buildings in the country. The building was designed to keep air quality high even with 70 buses under roof; reduce water usage by using grey water to wash the buses; limit the runoff entering the sewer system; and to reduce heating, cooling, and lighting costs. Several teachers discussed doing a walking field trip to the center to tour the facilities with their environmental science and pre-engineering students next fall.

Then the teachers carpooled over to Notre Dame’s White Field where they were able to meet with Dr. Tom Corke, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and director of FlowPAC. Dr. Corke gave a tour of the facilities including the wind tunnels, extensive cooling system, and wind turbines. He also gave an overview about Notre Dame research in creating more energy efficient aircraft and wind turbines. Dr. Corke did a fantastic job of breaking down the research into understandable bits for the teachers that focus primarily on Chemistry and Life Sciences and less on mechanics. The teachers are anxious to learn more about the real-time wind turbine data that will be available online in the coming months.

Next on the whirlwind tour, the teachers joined Paul Brenner, associate director for high performance computing at Notre Dame, on location at the GreenCloud project. Dr. Brenner is working with a team of Notre Dame researchers to learn how to utilize waste heat from computer servers to reduce energy costs. Some of the research for this project is being conducted at the South Bend Conservatory. The server heat is piped into the greenhouse during the colder months of the year. Last year, the project reduced the city’s heating costs in the conservatory by about 10%.

For the afternoon, some of the RET teachers visited the Kamat Labs. The team was very friendly and inviting, showing the teachers demos, equipment, and some simple things that could be used in their classrooms with few material costs. The teachers visited with about ten different researchers, including some of the RET teachers that were doing their research with Prashant Kamat and Ian Lightcap.

Five teachers stayed back at Stinson-Remick to meet with Cheryl Periton from Canterbury Christ Church University in Great Britain. She gave a short presentation about STEM education in Great Britain, and then the teachers had a discussion comparing and contrasting the differences in education.

By the end of the day, all of us were on information overload. But, the teachers came away with a broader perspective of energy issues, including the importance of energy efficiency. Several teachers expressed that they couldn’t wait to get started on planning trips back with their classes and ways to share their experiences with their students.

Jeannette Pancoast, marketing manager at Transpo, gives the teachers a LEED tour of the new Transpo building.

Jeannette Pancoast, marketing manager at Transpo, gives the teachers a LEED tour of the new Transpo building.


Ashfeld Group Hosts Upward Bound Program

Erin White-Wilson helps a student learn about combustion.

Erin White-Wilson (left) helps a student learn about combustion.

Brandon Ashfeld, assistant professor of chemistry, and some of the graduate students from his lab, hosted 20 Upward Bound rising sophomores. The Upward Bound Students were living on the Notre Dame campus for three weeks to experience classes from Notre Dame professors.

This was their last full day of classes, and the students were tired, but that didn’t keep them from jumping up to volunteer for demonstrations, and asking engaging questions.

Cathy Chukwulebe demonstrates the Wehab on the big screen.

Cathy Chukwulebe (right) demonstrates the Wehab for a student on the big screen.

Cathy Chukwulebe, a mechanical engineering junior shared her work with the WeHab project and gave students a chance to try out the rehabilitation device that simulated what it would be like to have a disability. DeVonte Applewhite, a computer science sophomore shared the high school experiences that sparked his interest in the sciences and ultimately contributed to his success at Notre Dame.

Dr. Ashfeld gave the students a mini-lecture on the applications of organic chemistry, stressing the fact that he considers himself an artist first, scientist second. He then showed the students molecular structures representing compounds familiar to the students like ibuprofen and caffeine.

Erin White-Wilson and Catherine Campos explained combustion to the students and had them predicting which balloons would explode when exposed to oxygen. The students then learned how to make burrito batteries with play-dough from Phil Cook, a science teacher from Culver Academy and RET participant. Meanwhile, some of the other students joined Erin, Catherine, and Catherine Orzech (another RET participant) in making “elephant toothpaste” and testing out the effects of liquid nitrogen.

Dr. Ashfeld (far left) gets the students excited about organic chemistry.

Dr. Ashfeld gets the students excited about organic chemistry.


Project Infinite Green visits the Kamat Lab to learn about solar research

Project Inifinite Green and Dr. Kamat

The students from Project Infinite Green and the Kamat group pose in front of Hesburgh Library.

Project Infinite Green, a group of 30, 7th and 8th grade students from Lemont, Illinois, visited the Kamat Lab on April 20th as part of the students’ research and creation of a green business plan. Students learned about “Solar Paint” being researched at Notre Dame, they listened to presentations about solar energy from Dr. Kamat and participated in hands-on activities in the lab.  The activities taught students about the laser table and sputter-coater, optical spectroscopy/absorbance/fluorescence of chlorophyll, and solar cell characterization.

After visiting Kamat Labs, students toured Stinson-Remick Hall where they learned about solar panels and clean rooms.

While on the tour, some of the Notre Dame undergraduate engineering students did impromptu demos of their projects when they noticed the interested Junior High students. Catherine Greenspon sent this reply in a thank you letter to cSEND:

Our students were so taken by the labs that full imprints of their fingers and faces were left as a reminder of our group. They had so many questions. and you took the time to answer every one of them. Some of your students came out of the labs and chatted with our kids. I’m not sure what they said, but I did hear a lot of “Woah” and “I’m going to build one like that when I come here.” As 7th and 8th graders, this was most of the group’s first exposure to a college campus. The University of Notre Dame and cSEND have set the bar very high for all campus visits that follow. Your support and encouragement of STEM exploration will be hard to match.

Project Infinite Green experience the Kamat Labs at the University of Notre Dame

Students from Project Infinite Green experience the Kamat Labs at the University of Notre Dame.

Over the course of 25 weeks, these students met after school to investigate renewable and non-renewable energy sources, and the anthropogenic impacts of these energy sources.

The students completed capstone projects that included a green business plan using various energy sources. The solar team created a plan that included the use of solar islands.

The students were invited after corresponding with Kamat labs that were acting as mentors to the students on this project.

Due to the success of Project Infinite Green, the students were invited to Washington D.D. to present their green business plans to Congressman Lipinski and Senator Durbin, as well as the STEM ED Caucus May 16-18.

If you are interested in participating in a Notre Dame lab tour, please contact Jenny Frech for more information.






RET Orientation Day Two

Ben Brubaker explains the lever design on their turbine.

The RET teachers returned for their second day of orientation.

The teachers began the day with a wind engineering project.  They were given the task: create a wind turbine that will lift a cup with the most pennies off the ground. The source of air will be from a hair dryer.

A variety of materials were available to the groups including tape, pencils, paper, card stock, paper plates, push pins and some items from recycling.  Teachers were given 45 minutes to design and build their turbines.

The four groups all approached their design in different ways.  Some tried to minimize friction, some tried to direct airflow, while another group added levers.

After 45 minutes, we tested their engineering projects. The winning group was able to lift 100 pennies. The second place group lifted 45.

The Project Lead The Way teachers said that if they were doing this activity in the classroom, they would have the students do calculations for efficiency and work. They would also have them make modifications and the appropriate calculations.

This is a great team building exercise and would be a good introduction to an energy unit.

If using this activity in the classroom, I would suggest adding more time.  Forty-five minutes did not leave a lot of time for testing and modification. If done in the classroom, teachers would want to have a couple of class periods for this activity.You would want to have more than one hair dryer available for testing. Also, if done in the classroom, teachers may want to specify parameters for judging: amount of time the cup must be off the ground, and a certain height.

Research Experience for Teachers Begins Today

Engineering a Sustainable Energy Future

Notre Dame cSEND RET teachers

RET teachers listen intently to presentations by Notre Dame faculty as they decide which project they would like to select.

Thirteen local teachers started  cSEND’s first Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program.  This program is funded by the National Science Foundation for a total of 3 summers.

Teachers are matched with Notre Dame faculty to work in the lab for eight weeks.  By the end of the summer, teachers will have a better understanding of energy issues and practical curriculum that they developed for their classroom.

This RET program is unique in that Alliance of Catholic Education (ACE) teachers from around the country will be joining us for the last 6 weeks of the program, extending the reach of Notre Dame classrooms from Maine to Florida and back up to Washington State.  ACE teachers earned their Master of Education through Notre Dame and are working in high needs Catholic schools across the nation.

Prashant Kamat presents to RET teachers

Prashant Kamat delivers a presentation about solar fuels and the project available in his lab this summer.

As part of their orientation, teachers listened to presentations by Notre Dame research faculty.  After hearing the presentations, teachers will list their preferences and then they will be matched to labs based on their interests and experience.  Seeing a variety of presentations give teachers a broad perspective of energy questions being investigated at the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Prashant Kamat offers words of encouragement to teachers worried about the scope of the projects.  “Don’t worry. We start from zero. All we need is a good motivation.”  He continues, “We love bench chemistry. If I can do it, anyone can do it.  What we do will translate well into the chemistry classroom.”

Some of this year’s projects include topics in biofuels, solar energy, fuel cells, nuclear energy, sensors (used for grid technology), and carbon capture.

How to Plan a Lab or Classroom Visit

Most of you could deliver an in-depth lecture to undergraduates or graduates in your sleep.  But if the thought of relating your research to elementary or high school kids sends you into cold sweats, read on, and hopefully you’ll glean a few tips to make your experience go more smoothly.

1. Remember, while content is important, it’s equally important to inspire — to promote curiosity, creativity, and questioning in students. Leave them with some golden nuggets that make them want to go back home and find out more about the world around them.

2. Check out the Indiana State Standards.  If you are open to inviting any grade level into you lab, pick a grade level and standards that correlate with what you are working on in the lab.  If you have already identified a class to visit your lab, check the standards for that grade or course at the link below.

Look through the standards and find a grade level and standard that best fits what you are doing in the lab.   If it seems difficult to choose a standard that relates to what you are doing in the lab, look through the process standards.  Many of the standards relate to the scientific process in general.

Teachers and students would enjoy hearing about how you come up questions to investigate, how you design your experiments, how you record data, etc. The scientific process standards are very important and should be a snap for you to relay to the students how you and your lab colleagues use these processes.

Students in all age groups need help in developing their questioning skills.  How could you incorporate asking scientific questions into your visit?  If you just open it up for questions, they may ask you about your cat or about the most recent explosions in your lab.  Where do you get ideas for questions to investigate?  What inspired you to explore scientific study?  Could you help students develop a list of questions that they could investigate at home or in the classroom?

3. Decide what would make a good demonstration, explanation, or simple experiment.  Think about ways to make sure that all students can see what is going on. Generally, groups can be broken into smaller groups with the use of chaperones or grad students.  We can probably even arrange for help from the Student Advisory Board if we have notice.

4. Elementary and middle school teachers love tie-ins.  It’s great if you can tie in math, language arts, and current events. Why is this work important in their lives?  Why is science important in general?

5. For all grades, if you have a prepared lab sheet for the students, that will keep them on task while they’re in your lab or watching your demo.  Little ones can do scavenger hunts with pictures or make drawings, older kids can record data.

6. All students should be supervised at all times.  Have a back-up plan ready with the teacher should a student be misbehaving and causing a dangerous situation. (Who will remove the child from the situation?) Not all teachers will know if the behavior could be dangerous, so be clear about limits.

All ages need proper safety instruction and clothing for your lab or demo. Of course, have safety rules appropriate for your lab, perhaps starting with, “hands in your pockets” and “don’t lean up against anything”.

7. Use the table below to help plan your visit and activities.  The table lists some basic skills that you should be able to expect from the various ages.  While individual abilities will range the gamut, this will give you a ballpark idea of the capabilities of each of the age groups as a whole.

8. Please let me know if I can be of assistance!

Grades Math skills Writing Reading observation Questioning Behavior/Direction following
K/1 Counting, bar graphs Draws pictures, just learning to sound out words Basics Can draw simple sketches of what they see Ranges from great questions to telling stories instead of questioning; may need some redirection of what types of questions to ask Usually pretty good, may have difficulty not touching, may push if they can’t see.  Will need lots of supervision for any tasks they will be completing.
2-3 Addition, subtraction, more complicated bar graphs, picture graphs, simple data tables the use of adjectives in descriptions Can follow simple written directions Can draw sketches and write about what they see Tell fewer stories, ask better questions May still be some pushing to see.  Will still need supervision for tasks, but not quite as much hovering.
4-5 Multiplication, division, simple algebra, Line graphs, measurement and geometry become important this year Informational writing Can follow multi-step directions Sketches, written, appropriate to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative observations Appropriate to ask students to write down questions that could be investigated further, or to compile a list of questions Generally follow directions
6-8 Wide range of math ability, should expect them to be able to read data tables and construct line graphs with help Informational writing, should expect more details in written explanations Can follow multi-step directions Expect details in written details and in sketches.  Stress the importance of accuracy in data Encourage question asking.  This age starts to get shy about asking aloud,  may be helpful to have them write questions down on a card Generally follow directions, but will need oversight if performing tasks on their own.  May help to have students repeat back directions.
Grade 9 Wide range of ability.  Expect ability to read data table and construct line graphs, but may need some assistance.  Most 9th graders are taking, or have taken algebra Should expect details in written explanations.  Will need encouragement.  Many want to do the least amount of work possible.  May want to set guidelines for what is expected Can follow multi-step directions, but many won’t or don’t read directions.  Give the expectation that they will be reading the directions on their own. Explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative data.  Stress importance of the accuracy in measurements and data gathering. Some students shy about asking questions.  Encourage questions by asking open ended questions of the students. Wide range of behaviors from very immature to very mature.
Grades 10-12(ICP, Earth Science) Wide range of ability.  Most (but not all) kids that take these classes don’t necessarily like science, or they are lower end students.  Some may need a lot of guidance on math, others will be great.  All should have had at least algebra. Expect details in written explanations.  Encourage expanded answers Can follow multi-step directions, but many won’t or don’t read directions.  Give the expectation that they will be reading the directions on their own. Explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative data.  Stress importance of the accuracy in measurements and data gathering. Some students shy about asking questions.  Encourage questions by asking open ended questions of the students. Most students will be well behaved, may be difficult to engage a few
Grades 10-12(Chemistry, Physics, etc.) Most students should be good at math as well if they are in these classes.  If they seem to be struggling, keep challenging them. Expect thorough lab entries These students should be able to follow directions with minimal guidance Stress the importance of accurate measurements and record keeping.  Significant digits are generally taught in Chem I. Sometimes these students are afraid to ask questions because they are used to being right.  Encourage questioning or have them write down their questions. Most will be well behaved.  Watch for students that are afraid to try to use the lab equipment.  They are very good at blending into the woodwork.



Researcher Profile: Ruilan Guo

Dr. Ruilan Guo has wanted to be a scientist since she was very young.  She recalls being enchanted by the career because “scientists wear lab coats and goggles, making magic with beakers.”

Today, her fascination with science has matured, “It’s a place where you can make things; change things; find something new and make an impact.”

Assistant Professor Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Ruilan Guo, Assistant Professor Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

And that’s what brings Ruilan to cSEND.  It fits her research of polymer based membranes used in fuel cells.  Her work will have practical impact in sustainable energy as a method of using hydrogen in fuel cells.  Using a proton exchange membrane, the only byproduct of hydrogen fuel cells is water, making it a very clean energy source.

This same technology can be used for other gas separation and desalination processes. This work is important for future sustainable technologies for a warming planet and a growing population.

Ruilan earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Beijing University of Chemical Technology.  She earned her Ph.D. from Georgia Tech, where she studied Polymer Science and Engineering.  It was her postdoctoral work at Virginia Tech that led her to membrane research.

Ruilan is looking forward to getting her lab established.  It is still under construction, but she has begun teaching classes.

When Ruilan is not in the lab, you will find her playing badminton.  She laments that the courts are only set up once a week.  She also enjoys cooking Chinese dishes.

She is happy to be at Notre Dame.  “The people are very nice and supportive.  I feel comfortable; like I belong here.”

Dr. Guo joined the University of Notre Dame in January of 2012 and is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

New cSEND Student Advisory Board

The new semester welcomes a new Student Advisory Board (SAB) and Associates for 2012.  The SAB works with cSEND in two main areas: to help develop and promote on- and off-campus education and outreach programs  and to help educate and create awareness about the most critical energy related issues and topics facing us today.

This year’s SAB officers, JP Fontelo and Daniel Brach, are serving as Co-Chairs.  JP Fontelo, an MBA student, hopes to build on his experience as Notre Dame’s first representative in the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program, to work full-time in the realm of energy efficiency marketing or financing of energy projects.  Daniel Brach is an enthusiastic Business Sophomore with a passion for sustainability.

SAB’s Vice Chair, Cathy Chukwulebe, is a second year SAB member and Mechanical Engineering Sophomore.  She is a member of several student organizations and would like to see more collaboration between them.

Lauren Eckert, an Environmental Sciences sophomore minoring in Portuguese, has a special place in her heart for the Brazilian rainforests.  Lauren serves as the SAB secretary.

Brendan Dolan, a Finance major, minoring in Energy Studies will be serving as treasurer this year.  Brendan serves on the Student Senate and has many ideas for helping to make connections across campus.

Burns Lab Hosts Chemistry Students from Mishawaka High School

In March,Peter Burns, Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences, and Ginger Sigmon, managing director of the Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) , hosted 39 students from Mishawaka High School for a  morning of learning about nuclear energy at the Burns Lab in Stinson-Remick Hall of Engineering.

The students listened to a lecture about the nuclear fuel cycle and how a nuclear reactor works.  They watched science demonstrations from the Notre Dame Science Demo Team, and then received a tour of the Stinson-Remick rooftop to see the solar panels.  To finish the day, students got a behind-the -scenes tour of the actinide labs to see scientists working to find safer ways to dispose of nuclear waste.