The integration of research with education and outreach is an essential aspect of Brandeis MRSEC. Our education and outreach programs have several parts, of which almost all involve “hands-on” experiential learning. Our education and outreach program reaches members of the general public, neighboring research and educational institutions, and students at all educational levels from elementary school through postgraduate.
One of the central parts of the Brandeis MRSEC is the education of our graduate students and post-docs through course work and research. This is especially vital in interdisciplinary research, where researchers from different educational backgrounds will be working together, learning to communicate and collaborate. Through our already-established graduate program in Quantitative Biology, our students are involved in courses that emphasize this kind of cooperation.
Additionally the Brandeis MRSEC runs a seminar program with speakers every other week from other universities and from industry. In the alternate weeks an internal, general MRSEC meeting is held, where talks by grad students and post-docs are featured. The meetings gather all MRSEC participants together, with a combination of socialization and science, and provide a venue for input from all participants to the MRSEC management team and for discussions of issues of interest to all participants.
Our undergraduate programs include a recently established major in biological physics, which is an intensive program based in physics that also requires courses and laboratory work in chemistry and biology. This program strongly encourages students to get involved in research as soon as possible in their college careers. Our MRSEC will provide an important source of funding and research opportunities for undergraduate students, who typically do research part time during the school year, as well as in the summers.
Last year, one of our investigators, Irving Epstein, received a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to create, in collaboration with the Posse Foundation of New York City, a new initiative to recruit, train and provide mentoring and other support services for “posses” of 10 inner-city students to study science at Brandeis University (see “Diversity in chemistry: catalyzing change”). The past success of the Posse model at Brandeis in increasing the graduation rate of nontraditional students identifying promising students, providing intensive precollege training, and setting up effective support mechanisms once students matriculate—presents a special opportunity to adapt elements of this program to bringing under-represented students into science. We place several Science Posse students each year in MRSEC labs and anticipate that later in their careers they will participate in the summer REU program as well.
This component is aimed at outreach to the general public, including museum outreach and development of exhibitions.
The Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., is a small and high-quality undergraduate engineering school, which attracts excellent students. Brandeis MRSEC has established a collaboration with Olin, for use of the Brandeis microfluidics fabrication facility by Olin seniors in their capstone engineering projects. Olin also offers a Certificate in Engineering Studies in collaboration with Brandeis.
We have established a cooperative program with the Discovery Museums of Acton, Mass., for development of hands-on exhibits demonstrating elements of the materials science in biology. This is a museum with programs specifically for young people, to enhance their education and interest in science. An initial highly visual and interactive project on simulations of self assembly of virus capsids has been undertaken by Mike Hagan. With MRSEC funding, we will endeavor to expand on this initial project with other exhibits. The museum also offers a great opportunity for MRSEC graduate students to get involved in helping teach the groups of school students who visit the museum, and this will be another important aspect of our cooperation with the museum.
We have begun an Outreach education effort targeted at improving the quality of science laboratories focused on structure-function relationships for K-12 students studying MRSEC related disciplines. Interested high school classes are invited to campus for laboratory/classroom immersion days. MRSEC ambassadors from Brandeis have also visited the schools themselves to facilitate mini-labs or to follow-up with data analysis based on the on-site immersion experience. Additionally, in a partnership with MIT, we will be providing a multi-day summer teacher series where teachers are trained in protein biophysics and are given the skills and materials necessary to run small labs in their classrooms during the school year.