Research Experience for Teachers

Program Overview

Research Experience for Teachers (RET) is a program of summer research projects for high school teachers. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program aims to provide research experience to area high school instructors in an area of interest. Instructors are expected to develop relevant activities and materials for use in their classroom. The RET program allots stipends (which vary by location) for this summer research, and is a wonderful experience to diversify your teaching portfolio.

RET 2015

The summer of 2015 marks my seventh year participating in NSF funded RET programs.  This summer, I am participating in the SMARTER RET program at NYU Polytechnic, located in Brooklyn, New York.  I am working with Dr. Kapila focusing on mechatronics, specifically with intuitive human-robotic interfaces.

RET 2013

My sixth summer participating in the RET program at the University of Notre Dame embodied two distinct goals: as in past summers, I was working in a research lab (with Dr. Paul McGinn), but in addition I served as the coordinator of the teacher-facing portion of the program.  You can read a summary of my experience here.

RET 2012

This will be my fifth summer being a part of the RET program at the University of Notre Dame.  The RET grant through NSF has been granted to cSEND, the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame.  I’ll be working this summer with Dr. Paul McGinn, focusing on the design, manufacture and testing of solid electrolytes for use in lithium batteries.

I’ll be using Storify this summer to document my RET work.  You can use this link to read my Storify.

RET 2011

I have been fortunate to have been able to participate in the RET program at the University of Notre Dame under the supervision of Dr. Grace Xing in the Electrical Engineering department for the past four summers (2008-2011).   If you are interested in finding a local RET program where you live, you may reference a national listing of colleges and universities participating by visiting:

RET 2010

I am now entering my third summer at Notre Dame working with Dr. Grace Xing in the Electrical Engineering department. I will continue my work with graphene, and will refine my AFM skills, as well as learn a new AFM technique: Scanning Kelvin Probe Microscopy .

June 28th, 2010

When using Scanning Kelvin Probe Microscopy (SKPM), it is important that your sample is grounded to the metal puck.  Thus far into the summer, we have used aluminum single sided tape to act as a ground.  Currently I am working on fabricating a custom puck which has a clip which touches the top of the sample (and therefore the graphene) in order to ground the sample.  This will be nice to have, as the conductive tapes that I am currently using leave quite a bit of residue.

RET 2009

2009 RET Research Overview

This summer kicks off my second year in the RET program at Notre Dame. I will again be working with Dr. Xing in the Electrical Engineering department. My focus is quite similar, as I am still focusing on the creation of a functional nano-scale pH meter. However, there has been a material change. Last summer I was working with GaAs as a semiconducting material; whereas this summer, I will work on depositing (via a variety of methods) a thin sheet of graphene onto either silicon/silicon dioxide and/or copper foil. Graphene is especially exciting because it is theoretically a more energy efficient and “faster” material from which to build transistors. Silicon tends to hit a speed barrier around 10 nm, whereas graphene does not see this limitation.
Thus far, we have obtained graphene via two methods: exfoliation and chemical vapor deposition, both of which are highlighted, along with current results, in my 2009 RET symposium presentation below:

2009 RET Symposium Presentation

If you are interested in reading more about graphene, how it is grown on copper foil, and potential applications, there are several papers embedded in my presentation, which you may access by the following url:

Allotropes of Carbon Activity

A piece of the RET experience involves the generation of a lesson related to the research that you conduct. The lesson that I developed this year deals with investigations into the allotropes of carbon. You can download the activity here . If your students are interested in the “Go Beyond” activity from the lesson, they will need to download the paper, “Unusual Properties and Structures of Carbon Nanotubes” .

RET 2008

Notre Dame Research Experience for Teachers Program

This summer marked my entry into the RET program at Notre Dame. When I previously taught in Chicago I had been interested in a similar RET program atNorthwestern University, but balked at the daily commute (Chicago traffic is HORRIBLE!). Having since moved to Indiana, I was up for the task of a daily 90+ mile roundtrip commute, even with gas prices being quite high. I have been working with semiconducting materials over the past six weeks attempting to fabricate a functional ISFET that can be used as a pH meter. My research experience is overseen by Dr. Grace Xing, who has provided a wealth of challenges to me.

Crystal Fire

Along with constructing a working ISFET pH meter, I have also been charged with presenting a series of talks on the book, “Crystal Fire“, by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson. It is an excellent piece of non-fiction which details the invention of the transistor and the monumental shift in technology that came about as the result of its invention. It served as not only a primer on transistors, but also as a way to connect with the other members of Dr. Xing’s group. My presentations on Crystal Fire, as well as other presentations are saved at SlideShare . SlideShare is an online presentation hosting site…great as a backup for powerpoints that you may use regularly or just would like to share with others. Slideshare is also a great safety net that enables you to upload your presentations such that if needed, you could present directly from the web using your uploaded presentation.

ISFET pH Meters

I spent the bulk of the summer reading various articles on ISFET devices, trying to figure out how I was going to go about making a functioning device. To make a functional pH meter, an ISFET would serve to the ion concentration (in this case, the H+ ion) by the varying electrical potential upon the gate of the device that comes as a direct result of the conductivity of the electrolytic solution the device is submerged in. A reference electrode provides a stable electrical potential to the electrolyte solution. I made several Ag/AgClreference electrodes, in addition to purchasing a stock Ag/AgCl reference electrode from Fisher Scientific. I made a short video on how to make a reference electrode:

I have begun preliminary testing of my device, which is proving to be very “leaky”. Basically, this means that current is flowing where it should not. Although I have not made a device with is able to determine pH (yet!) , I have found some success in being able to determine the relative conductivity of electrolyte solutions that my device is immersed in. The problem, as you can see below, is that my device cannot determine the difference between low pH values and high pH values, as both are very electrically conductive.

As my summer ’08 experience is drawing to a close, I find myself looking expectantly to next summer. I will again be working with Dr. Grace Xing and her research group, this time focusing on developing molecular sensors using graphene. Imaging a device that can detect a particular molecule…fascinating stuff that is a real springboard from the research I was able to experience this summer. If you are interested in joining one of the many RET programs at Notre Dame, a webpage has been established where you can apply as well as see the available research programs involved with RET@ND. Feel free to contact me if you have particular questions regarding my experience at Notre Dame, or if you have general RET questions that you would like answered from a participants point of view.


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