Materials Interdisciplinary Research Team (MIRT) Outreach

TMI’s outreach program has been reinvigorated by a generous NSF Materials Interdisciplinary Research Team (MIRT) grant on “Exploring Unusual Properties of Transitional Metal Oxides.”  The outreach program has identified an ambitious target population including grades K-16 and the community at large.  TMI hired Christy Aletky in Fall 2011 to plan and implement MIRT outreach activities.

From pre-school to graduate school and beyond, TMI faculty, staff, and students are passionate about increasing representation of women and minorities in STEM education. Additionally, the team at TMI strives to educate the general public about the importance of funding materials science research. MIRT outreach activities in 2012 included the following:


Explore UT

MIRT partnered with the student chapter of the Materials Research Society at The University of Texas at Austin to develop a demonstration for Explore UT, the university’s annual open house, in early March 2012.  The demonstrations included mock-ups of how e-readers work, a SEM vs. Macro level matching game, and a matching game of raw materials and finished products.  Graduate students used the games to further explain materials science concepts to almost 300 school-aged participants.


Internships with The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders

The NSF MIRT Team at TMI hosted four high school juniors from The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders (ARS) for an intensive and educational one-week internship during May 21-25, 2012.  ARS is a public charter school in the Austin Independent School District with 600 students in 6 – 12th grades.  The school has a robust engineering pathway for high school students and began its first senior class in the fall of 2012.  The students at the school are 100% female, 61% Hispanic, and 13% African-American, and 60% of students qualify for free and reduced lunches.

During the one-week internship, students from the school’s engineering pathway were divided into teams of two and paired with graduate students.  Participants were then educated about battery theory and construction.  The students synthesized their own cathode materials and then characterized their materials using x-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy.  Participants constructed layered, olivine, and spinel cathode materials.  They tested the batteries, and ultimately reported on which battery structures were most suited to various applications including grid storage, portable electronics, and electric vehicles.  The students also learned about fuel cells and the logistics of preparing for graduate school.  On a post-experience survey, all students stated that they would recommend the internship to a junior at their school the following year and that they found the internship to be a valuable educational experience.


Undergraduate Internships

Undergraduate summer interns were recruited from historically black and minority schools in several different states.  These include Xavier University in New Orleans; Bronx Community College in Bronx, New York; The University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa, TX; and Prairie View A&M in Prairie View, TX.  These students were provided with a stipend for their work in conjunction with an option for housing.  They worked in the laboratories of Professors Manthiram and Goodenough on batteries and fuel cells.  Martin Trujillo was the first student accepted into the program in partnership with the Summer Research Academy by Louis Stokes Allied Minority Program.  Aaron Dangerfield, Latrice Jerrells, and Jason Paladini were the final students selected.  Several students submitted a paper detailing their research experience.


Campus Tours and Classroom Visits

Graduate student Luke Marshall partnered with ARS again on October 22 when he went to visit juniors in a Digital Electronics Class.  Luke, a natural teacher, discussed how the batteries that the girls plug into their digital breadboard circuits work.  He also used that time to recruit the girls for TMI’s plan to host ARS interns in May 2013.

       In early November, Marco and Ivan Gallegos, students at The Harmony Charter School in Austin, visited several of the laboratories at TMI.  Visiting research scientist Dr. José Antonio Alonso from Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid and postdoctoral fellow Sebastián Larrégola conducted the tour in Spanish for the benefit of the students.  Students learned about materials synthesis and characterization including techniques used in the study of transition metal oxides, batteries, and fuel cells.

In November, ninth grade girls from ARS visited the laboratories of Professors Manthiram, Goodenough, and Zhou.  Graduate student Luke Marshall and postdoctoral fellow Sebastián Larrégola conducted the tour.  The students were shown demonstrations of ferrofluid and superconductivity.  Additionally, Dr. Nicole Benedek, TMI’s newest faculty member, shared her research with the students and discussed her path to working as a researcher.


Mentoring Programs

Two graduate students were paired with female undergraduate students to provide mentorship and research experience via Women in Engineering’s Graduates Linked with Undergraduate Education (GLUE) program.  These mentorships began in January of 2012.  One of the first participants was awarded a $200 scholarship for her exemplary poster presentation, among five scholarships awarded out of the 28 students who competed.  Both GLUE students were hired as undergraduate research assistants during the summer semester of 2012 to further their research.


Curriculum Generation

Dr. Soosairaj Therese, Bronx Community College, NY, visited The University of Texas at Austin for a week in January 2012.  She toured MIRT facilities and worked with graduate students on their research.  Additionally, she collaborated with Dr. Manthiram to develop an introductory materials chemistry course.  Dr. Therese and Dr. Manthiram have an ongoing collaboration to develop a materials science curriculum for the Bronx Community College.  The Bronx Community College is part of the City University of New York System.  In fall 2011, 95.7% of all first-time freshman students were Black or Hispanic at the Bronx Community College.


Lectures for Adult Learners

MIRT faculty have an active partnership with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which provides education and enrichment programs for older adults. Dr. Goodenough presented “The Future of Energy: Battery Technology” to OLLI’s UT Seminars for Adult Growth and Enrichment (Sage) Program on February 20, 2012.  Dr. Manthiram presented a lecture on Clean Energy Technologies for OLLI’s Learning Activities for Mature People (LAMP) Program on February 15, 2012.  Educating older adults in our community regarding clean energy garners social and political support for research in energy technologies.