I closed out our fall semester pleased with how an opportunity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had shaped my Parkland College chemistry instruction for the better.
This past summer, I participated in the UIUC’s nano@illinois RET, a six-week professional development and research experience for teachers. The 12 participant-teachers had diverse experience and backgrounds, including middle school to community college math and science teachers, teachers from different states, and experienced and novice teachers. These differences made for a really interesting group of participants, and we ended up learning a great deal from each other.
We spent Mondays and Tuesdays in professional development sessions, learning about cutting-edge nanotechnology research, touring laboratories and facilities at UIUC, and discussing ways to translate nanotechnology research into the classroom environment. We spent the rest of our week on our individual research projects. The participant-teachers were assigned to a laboratory, a faculty mentor, and a research mentor, typically a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow.
Research projects included studying transmembrane proteins using nanodisc lipoprotein complexes, creating thin films with specific properties, manipulating graphene, and other topics. My project, conducted in Prof. Lynford Goddard’s Photonics Systems Laboratory, involved using light to etch a specific pattern into the surface of a silicon chip.
Silicon chips are important parts of modern computers. They are semiconductors and form the basis of integrated circuits. To create the circuits, specific patterns must be etched into the surface of the Si. The normal procedure for etching silicon to create these circuits with the correct design involves many steps and is time- and material-intensive, so if this project were successful, it could provide scientists with a faster and more straightforward process. This process also would be cheaper to conduct and chips could get to market faster. In the end, we were pleased that we were able to get the process to work. All in all, it was a successful summer.
I gained a lot by participating in this program. Before the summer, I had only limited experience with nanotechnology and even less experience with electrical engineering. I gained a lot of knowledge about the interface between chemistry and these other fields. This is something that I have brought into my classes already. For example, I now include discussion of the molecular differences between conductors, semiconductors, and insulators into my General Chemistry I (CHE 101) lecture.
I also made some great connections beyond Parkland. I learned a lot more about the UIUC and made many personal contacts. I also met and learned a great deal from some terrific STEM teachers from the local area and beyond.