Category Archives: Courses

STEM Skills

STEM Skills

Virtually everything in today’s society interfaces with computers. By necessity, tomorrow’s scientists and engineers will need to be very conversant with a wide range of computer related technologies. This class will focus on providing students with exposure to a many different technology applications via fun, hands-on projects involving programming, 3D modeling, 3D-printing, mobile application development, engineering design, technical communications, data processing, image processing, microprocessor control, and robotics.

STEM in Society

STEM in Society

Science and Public Policy — Their Interrelationship. The United States continuously faces many issues that involve both science and technology — issues rangin g from climate change to nano-technology, from human genomics to modified food crops, from fracking to imm unization. What is the role that science and technology play in determining what the public policy for the se issues should be? How as scientists or engineers should we respond to requests for advice and/or soluti ons? Are there any problems or pitfalls in the process of advising and forming policy?

The class will be centered on lectures and class participation in discussion on the various topics that will be covered. There will be several readings, from published articles in journals to excerpts from a book that covers the topic of scientist as adviser. There will be several papers that the students will author on policies that have been enacted, have failed to be enacted, or have been proposed. There will also be group projects that will consist of both a written paper and a presentation to the whole class.

Materials Science and Engineering

Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is focused on the improvement of existing materials and the discovery of new materials. MSE can often be thought of as a conduit between the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, earth and planetary sciences) along with math and all engineering disciplines. An example of this is the area of biomaterials (hip implants, dental implants, drug delivery, transplant material) that bridges biology and biomedical engineering.

During the four weeks, students will focus on MSE in the afternoons and as small groups will conduct three different hands-on laboratories, each lasting three days. These laboratories will include synthesizing and processing of a spinel ceramic (with an atomic structure that can accommodate many different chemical compositions resulting in a variety of commercial applications), building polymer components using 3D printing and examining the component’s mechanical integrity, and deforming a metal alloy (brass) and examining how the mechanical properties change. One of the important cornerstones of MSE is the relationship between structure, at various scales including macro, micro, nano, and atomic, and the resulting properties. These labs are designed to emphasize this relationship.

In addition to the hands-on activities, the students will hear seminars from several faculty in MSE highlighting their personal research areas. These seminars have been chosen to illustrate the breadth of MSE and include topics such as computation materials science, studying mechanical properties at the nanoscale, how MSE impacts the semiconductor industry, and “listening” to materials to determine physical properties. There will also be lectures on various characterization techniques (electron microscopes!), statistical analysis, advanced Excel techniques, keeping track of references, data mining, drawing atomic crystal structures, creating high quality graphics, etc.

Additionally, there will be three local plant/laboratory tours scheduled that complement the laboratory experiences. A tour of the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will complement the laboratory on spinels and a tour of the additive manufacturing capabilities at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) will complement the 3D printing laboratory.

Based on their laboratory experiences each team will choose a laboratory that they want to expand upon and suggest follow-on research (experiments, computational, or literature reviews). The student teams will be given some time in the final week work experiments, etc. during the afternoons but will be expected to work as groups on preparing posters, describing their results of their laboratory experience and follow-on research, in the evenings. The MSE GSE portion will conclude with poster presentation event with students presenting their findings.

Physics: A Prelude to Quantum Mechanics

Many experiments carried out about 100 years ago could not be explained by Classical Physics, paving the way to the development of new paradigms that are nowadays referred to as Quantum Mechanics. Modern Physics is thus not necessarily contemporary, but it addresses the physics of matter at the atomic level, whose description defies the usual paradigms contemplated in Classical Physics, such as Mechanics, Wave Phenomena, and Thermodynamics. Quantum Mechanics is the basis necessary to understand much of contemporary physics.

Following a brief description of the cornerstones of Classical Physics, the course will illustrate some experiments that cannot be explained with concepts rooted in Classical Physics. We will then introduce ideas that are fundamental to Quantum mechanics, such as photons, the “particle-wave” duality, and probabilities. The course will also illustrate some applications of these concepts with experimental demonstrations of quantum phenomena, such as the principles of lasers and high temperature superconductivity.

Since the beginning of the course, students will be involved in computer-based projects. The aim of these projects is to provide the visualization of concepts which are of fundamental importance for describing the vibrations of classical systems and the behavior of electrons when they are constrained to move in a box. The students will learn how to apply the ideas learned in the course, and implement them by writing a computer code with the help of a professional computer scientist.

Mathematics: From Number Theory to Encryption

This is a leisurely paced, but mathematically rigorous introduction to elementary number theory. Students will learn proof techniques like `indirect proof’ and `induction’. (Some past participants have found these skills useful to gain fast acceptance into the Math Honors concentration at the University of Tennessee.) The methods of logical reasoning employed in this area go back to the ancient G(r)eeks and still represent core skills for all aspects of modern mathematics.

Number theory studies the properties of natural numbers, like divisibility, primes, modular arithmetic, and so-called diophantine equations: one application is to find a method that produces all right triangles with integer sides.

We will also choose a collection of topics beyond these basics from our book. In particular, this will include the RSA method, which is key to encryption (for instance keeping credit card information secure during transmission over the internet).

In the evenings, students will have the opportunity to study the material for themselves, but with competent help available. This will include projects on encryption and its modern applications.

A student choosing this topic should have completed 2 years of high school algebra. In particular, calculus is NOT required; however for students that do know calculus, a project is available that establishes an amazing connection between calculus and prime numbers.

Chemistry: Chemistry and the Environment

chemistry image1Chemistry impinges on modern society in more ways than anyone including a chemist can imagine. Most of the things which improve the quality of our lives are made of chemicals which are made in chemichemistry image2cal plants such as Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. Many of these same things unfortunately also often have led indirectly to environmental degradation including water pollution, acid rain, smog, ozone depletion, and global warming, to name a few. Although people in the past weren’t aware of humanity’s profound impact on the earth, or didn’t care, we know better today and can do better today. We have in our power to eliminate or significantly reduce our numerous environmental problems. Chemists are in the forefront in solving these problems.

In the lectures and hands-on laboratory experiments we will examine together the chemistry of thechemistry image3 environment, i.e. the chemistry of the earth in the absence of people, environmental chemistry, which is concerned with the effect that chemicals used in our civilization have had on the planet, and green chemistry, a new field devoted to finding and developing methods to carry out chemistry in an environmentally friendly manner.

Some high school chemistry is recommended for students choosing this course.

Biology: Evolution of the Vertebrates

In this course, we will explore the history of vertebrates revealed by fossils and living animals. We will cover the evolution of the major vertebrate groups, including discussions of the biogeography, stratigraphy, and paleoecology of select clades. Classroom activities will include hands on projects involving fossils, casts, and skeletons.

Topics to be covered:

  • What are the major vertebrate groups today and in the past?
  • When did major vertebrate groups evolve?
  • How did vertebrate diversity change through time?
    • Mass extinctions
    • Major radiations
  • What were some of the key innovations during the history of the vertebrates?
    • The invasion of the land
    • The evolution of flight
    • Secondarily aquatic and marine vertebrates
    • Macropredation

Other topics include:

  • Science and the scientific method
  • Geologic time
  • Paleontological techniques
  • Human evolution
  • Dinosaurs
  • Phylogeny estimation
  • Taphonomy
  • Behavior reconstruction
  • Careers in the biosciences

This class will also include a field trip to the Gray Fossil Site, a 7-4.5 million year old fossil deposit found in 2001. The site is particularly well-known for its mammal fossils, but other vertebrate groups known from the locality include fish, amphibians, and reptiles. We will be visiting the associated museum, the fossil preparation and curation laboratories, and the site itself.