RETs Transfer Knowledge from Lab to Classroom

During the summer of 2006 middle school teachers Brenda O’Neil and Leigh McKenzie experimented with the use of oil and water microemulsions to act as templates for the formation of microstructured metal electrodes, leading to the publication of a scientific paper on their efforts. During the summer of 2007 they and fellow RET Peggy Wallace, took things a step further, building on their research to develop five guided inquiry activities suitable for use in middle schools. The activities were designed to use readily available materials that were non-toxic and could be simply disposed of after use. The development of these activities proved to be a research experience in its own right. Household detergents are generally complicated mixtures, with properties that are notably different from the single component detergents that the RETs have used in their research. In June 2007 the Alabama Mathematics, Science and Technology Initiative had it’s summer institute. The MRSEC RETs gave the activities they had developed as a 2 hour workshop for 8th grade physical science teachers, which was extremely well received as well as fun. Formal evaluations of these activities by both AMSTI and the RET showed strong scores in the self reported likelihood that the teachers would use these activities in the classroom.

Later in June the teachers had the opportunity to test out the activities on a group of middle school girls taking part in Camp SMILE, a half day summer camp taking place on the UA campus. The activities again proved very popular, to quote one participant: “the best activity we’ve done all summer”.
An added bonus that came from developing the activities was the discovery that some common household detergents are very salt tolerant and so make excellent templates for deposition of microstructured metals. The RETs have been developing such microstructuring methods for fabricating high surface area electrodes for use as supercapacitors and advanced batteries. Next summer they hope to develop an activity that includes electrodeposition of copper to demonstrate the process.