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SMART Turns Seventeen

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
March 28, 2007

A science and math program for high school sophomores and juniors celebrates its 17th season this year when it hosts students from across New England and beyond during its four-week session in July.

Project SMART--for Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research Training –gives students the opportunity to explore modern sciences and to develop a historical and philosophical perspective on the social and ethical issues raised by current developments in the biological, physical and chemical sciences.

Applications for this summer’s session are due by April 30.

The live-in program offers hands-on experience combined with lectures and discussions in the areas of biotechnology and nanotechnology, marine and environmental science, and space science. Students investigate research questions, use modern instrumentation, analyze data, apply computing techniques to genome and proteome analyses, discuss interdisciplinary aspects, examines societal issues and various career options.

Subhash C. Minocha, professor of plant biology and genetics, has directed the program since it began. In part, he credits the program’s success to the returning faculty members, who are the same ones that helped launch Project SMART in 1991.

Recently, Project SMART formed a partnership with the Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science and Engineering Education.

In the past, the summer institute has attracted highly talented students, mostly from the New England region but a few have come from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and London, UK. About 60 percent are women and about half come from rural school districts.

Although they arrive with a basic interest in science, they may not always see both sides of an issue, Minocha says. The month-long session allows them to delve into a topic and learn about the different positions.

“They may have an opinion about climate change, for example, but they may not know what’s really going on,” Minocha says. “During the session, they learn there is a balanced, scientific approach to looking at issues. Knowing how to do that is more important than simply having opinions.”

He goes on to say, “It doesn’t matter if you become a practicing scientist or not, what matters is that you become a scientifically literate citizen who can participate in decisions about the recent advances in the scientific field that will affect our society in an unprecedented manner. In order to participate in decision-making, we must understand the concepts and the techniques of scientific discovery.”

Project SMART also helps the high schoolers to hone their interests and provides a forum for sorting through the possibilities. For example, talks about cloning, genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood, genetic screening, biotechnology in agriculture, medicine and the environment in addition to biological warfare, patenting and ownership of life forms might lead them to the biotechnology or nanotechnology fields.

Glen Miller, associate director of the UNH Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing, who will coordinate the nanotechnology component of the program, says, “Nanotechnologies will have a profound impact on our lives in the coming decades. The National Science Foundation predicts that new nanotechnologies will add two million jobs and one trillion dollars per year to the world’s economy by 2015.”

In the marine and environmental science area, students discuss, among other things, the ocean waters from Great Bay to the Isles of Shoals, acid rain implications in the alpine zone of Mt. Washington, satellite imagery to measure forest health, GPS navigation, and climate change. They will also take a five-day field trip to the White Mountains.

The module on space science conducts an analysis of high energy particles following a solar flare, looks at ion acceleration at interplanetary disturbances, examines geomagnetic storms in relation to interplanetary parameters and numerical simulations of waves and plasmas, studies the impact of shocks on the magnetosphere, defines turbulence, and looks at controlled fusion from the perspective of bringing a star to Earth.

Financial support for Project SMART is provided by the offices of the president, the provost, the dean of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, the dean of College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the NH Space Grant Consortium, the NH Sea Grant program, and the UNH Nanogroup. Donations of cash and laboratory supplies, and discounts on supplies and equipment from several biotechnology companies also assist the program.

“These are pretty smart kids,” Minocha says of Project SMART attendees. “Most of them end up at top schools. As many as 30 percent come to UNH. That’s pretty good. After spending time here, developing contact with 20-25 faculty, looking at the labs, looking at the research, they get a sense of all that UNH has to offer.”

For more information visit www.smart.unh.edu.

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