Now beginning its third year, the Notre Dame Extended Research Community, NDeRC, is a remarkable collaboration between Notre Dame professors and graduate students, and South Bend-area teachers and students. All members of this partnership are beneficiaries.
The NDeRC teams graduate students with K-12 teachers for eight weeks of summer research in the graduate student’s area of expertise. Then, when school begins in September, the graduate students join their teacher-partners in the classroom to engage students in activities in that research area. For Summer 2009 and the upcoming academic year, the research areas are:
- Astrophysics: a collaboration with activities ranging from telescopic observations of asteroids in our solar system to the analysis of the absorption of supernovae radiation by distant galaxies;
- BioEYES: a collaboration involving the study of zebrafish embryonic development that, in the 2009-2010 academic year, will visit over 120 classrooms (50 teachers and 3,000 students);
- Biochemistry: a collaboration that studies cytoskeletal proteins that interact with microtubules and membranes within living cells;
- Particle Physics: a collaboration that studies computer-simulated collisions in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector to determine the search criteria for very rarely produced particles;
- Robotics: a collaboration that combines Wii remotes, Bluetooth communication devices, and Vex Robotics kits to design and build robots that can survey and navigate landscapes;
- Nanotechnology: a collaboration that studies the structure and dynamics of molecular-sized objects.
The NDeRC program was funded at Notre Dame beginning in July 2007 by a $2.71 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate STEM Fellowships in K-12 Education (GK-12) grant. Notre Dame is one of a select number of universities participating in this unique NSF program. The NSF developed the program in recognition of the fact that, in addition to being competent researchers, graduate students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields must be able to communicate science and research to a variety of audiences. The graduate students bring their research and practice into K-12 classrooms—gaining skills in explaining science to multi-age audiences of students and teachers. The graduate students also inspire transformation in the K-12 formal and informal learning environments, and stimulate interest in science and engineering among students and teachers.
Professor Mitch Wayne, chair of Physics and Principal Investigator for NDeRC, says: “NDeRC is a great, successful program. Over its five-year life span, the NSF will support a total of 37 Notre Dame graduate students in science and engineering with a generous stipend. In addition to the many benefits of the program for local schoolchildren, the program provides professional development for graduate students and local teachers, and also helps promote ‘town-gown’ relations. It’s a winning program for all participants.”