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High School Students Get Insider’s View of Emerging Technologies during Visit to Oak Ridge

Organizers use summer program to stimulate student interest in engineering technology

July 3, 2008

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—During the fifth and final week of their studies and field trips as participants in the inaugural class of Tennessee Tech University’s (TTU) Governor’s School for Emerging Technologies, 54 of the state’s top high school juniors and seniors recently visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Y-12 National Security Complex and the Technology 2020 facility to learn about some of the world’s leading technologies.

At ORNL, the students received a tour of the supercomputing facilities at the lab, which has the fifth fastest supercomputer in the world, the Jaguar Cray XT4. Its processing power is being used to calculate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, model efficient designs for biofuel engines and to study the universe.

Roger McCauley, director, disruptive technology programs, ORNL, delivered a lunchtime talk on disruptive, or replacement, technologies. An example of a disruptive technology would be the cell phone, which has replaced the hard-wired, “land line” telephone as the predominant personal communication device. During the talk, the students were given three minutes to form groups of three and come up with predictions for disruptive technologies or innovations that they thought would be important in their lifetimes or in the future. Ideas included the capability to re-grow human limbs or organs, technology to prolong human life forever and a total recycling machine that would recycle anything on the spot.

Presentations at Y-12 to the students focused on the science behind nuclear technologies and the work of the materials scientist, respectively.

At the Technology 2020 facility, the students viewed a demonstration courtesy of Y-12’s Large Chamber Scanning Electron Microscope (LC-SEM), one of the largest chamber SEMs in the world and the SEM with the largest array of scanning capabilities. The LC-SEM allows full characterization of samples up to 1 meter in diameter and weighing as much as 300 kilograms at magnifications up to 200,000x. The instrument enables examination of metallic and non-metallic samples never before achievable on one instrument and can be applied in aerospace, the automotive industry, medical manufacturing and other areas. It can help answer such questions as why a jet part cracked, whether a new material could improve a pacemaker or what the elements of a dinosaur bone are.

The students also observed various experiments with objects in a microwave while at the Technology 2020 facility.

The Governor’s School experience provided student Tryston Gilbert of Whitwell High School, Whitwell, Tenn., with an introduction to the electron microscope. “It’s just amazing how things look on a tiny scale,” he said. Gilbert added that he had been “juggling a lot of things” in terms of career ideas—including aviation and engineering—before the Governor’s School. “I’ve really become interested in the new ways of producing environmentally friendly energy,” he said. “I don’t know—I might come on back and work here someday.”    

Shauna Albritton, a student from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., said participating in the Governor’s School has broadened her perspective and influenced her to think about a different career track. She had thought she wanted to be a doctor. “It’s definitely opened my eyes to different possibilities and different things to do,” she said. “Now I’m looking into biomedical because it seemed really cool.”

Tennessee Tech University's Governor’s School for Emerging Technologies is designed to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through study of current topics in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and other emerging technologies. Students visit leading researchers and experience cutting-edge research facilities through weekly field trips.

Participants, who are in the 10th and 11th grades, develop and maintain an electronic portfolio of their work, earn six hours of college credit, and take part in community service activities. This year, the group traveled to Macon County with other TTU volunteers to help with tornado recovery efforts.

Oak Ridge Associated Universities and Tennessee Tech University are partners in this effort associated with TTU's Millard Oakley Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Center. The STEM Center's goals include teaching of STEM subjects from pre-school through college, improving the learning of STEM subjects at all levels, improving teacher education programs in all STEM fields, and increasing grant funding and support for STEM fields at all levels.

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

High school students participating in Tennessee Tech University’s (TTU) Governor’s School for Emerging Technologies watch a microwave experiment during a tour of the Technology 2020 facility in Oak Ridge.

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