November 15, 2011

Troy Students Get Glimpse Into Science Shaping Our Future

By: James V. Franco

Source: The Troy Record

TROY — Nanotechnology, while in the news at least a couple times a week, is a foreign word to most people but on Saturday middle school students, thanks to professors and students at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany, got a glimpse into the science that is already shaping our future.

Theresa Stinson, an eighth grader at Doyle Middle School, said she was reluctant to come to the event but once there she said it made her think about science as a possible part of her future.

“It was a lot of fun. It’s hands on. It’s not just reading about it. You can look at it and touch it and do stuff with it,” she said. “We learned how if you find dirt you can make it into money and other things that are valuable and how if you do solar powered light it will be better for the Earth.”

CNSE teamed up with the Troy Police Athletic League at School 12, and the Albany Police Athletic League held a similar event across the river. More than 40 students from Doyle Middle School attended during what’s been dubbed as NanoVember.

“A lot of the students are used to being exposed to sciences like biology, earth science and physics but it’s important to show them what the future is, and nanoscience is the future so it’s good to get them in at an early age,” Said Kristin Haacker, an employee at CNSE who set up the event with PAL.

At one station, students were building an integrated circuit using Legos under the direction of CNSE Associate Professor Carl Ventrice. He said most students, before partaking in the work station, had no idea what an integrated circuit is or how that makes things people use everyday like computers and cell phones actually work.

“I ask how a computer works and they say ‘you push a bunch of keys on a keyboard.’ And I tell them they are actually sending a bunch of electrical signals to a computer chip, and that computer chip converts those electrical signals into what you see on the screen of a computer. It’s all controlled by a computer chip, it’s not just magic,” he said. “By showing them the different aspects of how things work it makes them think a little bit and hopefully they will be more interested in how things work, and how they can make things work better.”

PAL has some help from the Troy High School baseball team as the middle school students built their own wafers, checked out the DNA of bananas, raced solar powered cars, tried on “clean room” suits among a host of other activities.

“We’re just helping the kids get a feel for a technology because the opportunities in that field are getting bigger and bigger,” said Greg Ruddy, a Troy High School senior and a member of the baseball team.

Norris Benbow, an employee at the Enlarged City School District of Troy, said it’s crucial to get kids excited about science, and it’s encouraging to see so many turn out on a Saturday morning that might otherwise be spent at home “playing video games.”

“It’s very important. Every time you look at the news or look around you hear science is the way to go, especially nanotechnology,” he said. “You look at SUNY and the nanotechnology campus over there, and what is going on in Malta … there are tons of opportunities even with the recession. If there is anyone involved in science there are always avenues you can turn.”

That message wasn’t lost on the students

“It was really fun learning about nanotechnology and doing a lot of hands on things,” she seventh grader Thuzar Moe. “I learned about nanotechnology and how we use it in different kinds of ways and how in 10 or 20 years from now we can use solar panels for the majority of our energy. This might be one of my choices when I get older.”

“I got to see the different technologies and how to create chips and how solar power is useful and how to see DNA from a banana,” said eighth grader Pedro Rosado. It was hands on, so it was interesting.”

Police officer Aaron Collington, executive director of the Troy PAL, said it’s important to expose students at a young age to as many opportunities as possible.

“We want to do a follow and go over to Albany so they can actually see more of the things that are going on and hopefully get them even more interested,” he said. “It’s huge for the college to reach out to the community and get involved and be seen instead of waiting for someone to come to them and ask. They approached us to come into the school and reach out to the kids and of course we agreed.”