Technology & Innovation: SCENE Research

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The Arizona State University SCENE Research Program for high school students is developing innovators of the future. We’ll hear from a student innovator and a mentor from the program.

TED SIMONS: An ASU program is helping high school students learn what it takes to be a professional scientist. The southwest center for education and natural environment or scene immerses students in ASU labs for up to eight months. Scene's research program is provided in partnership with the ASU global institute of sustainability and ASU center for solid state science. Here to talk about the scene program is Nate Newman, a mentor, and science professor, also here is a student involved in the program, Jean Juang, Corona Del Sol high school senior. Good to have you here.

BOTH: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: sounds like an environmental angle to this as well.

NATE NEWMAN: They have opened it up to all of sciences, so it's a very nice program to get high school students to come in, work in the Arizona State University lab, and we have some of the state of the artwork going on. We incorporate that into the program.

TED SIMONS: Is this some sort of scientific basis for understanding environment, something along those lines?

NATE NEWMAN: It is, but to be honest, it's more or less teaching us to be responsible scientists, where we make sure that we do things that are constructive not only in the short term but in the long term. The basis of the whole program is that mentoring is such an important part of training scientists, usually as a Ph.D student you're in with other graduate students and post DOCs. We have expanded that plan to bring in high school students and the graduate students mentor the high school students. It's really -- they bring in so much energy and excitement, ambition. Great things have happened. Jean can tell you about quite a bit of that type of excitement.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk to Jean. As far as being involved in cutting edge research, what were you involved in? How did you get involved and did you choose what you decided to research?

JEAN JUANG: Yes. Definitely. Scene is great in that it provides you with a range of opportunities. You can can choose to work in an engineering field or biology field. Last year I was honored to work with Dr. Newman. We worked on supercomputer memory and we worked on the properties with regard to temperature.

TED SIMONS: Was this something that needed an answer? Is this an academic exercise or something that did not have an answer and you had to do it?

JEAN JUANG: It is kind of both. Because we're on the cutting edge of research nobody knows about the properties of this type of memory. It was new but there were also applications we were investigating.

TED SIMONS: How do you make sure what the students are learning something that may not have a known answer but will teach them and guide them?

NATE NEWMAN: One of the things we do is we have graduate students who have a long-term project. They go down this path and they have some of the big questions that we want answered. What happens is a lot of little things, you say what if. What if we looked at commercial memory made by everspin, and the idea that we could look at properties at low temperature. They turned out to be quite appealing. Now we have quite a large program based on Jean's initial work where we're trying to make really energy efficient memory. Computers take up so much and generate so much heat, if you could make something that generated less heat you could make a more powerful computer and a faster computer. We're looking at lower temperatures to enable that development.

TED SIMONS: The idea of being mentored in the process, what were your questions? How were they answered?

JEAN JUANG: It was really great to be able to work with a variety of peers, grad students, post DOCS. Whenever I had a question in the lab about maybe a concept, or not knowing how to use a machine, I was mentored in that. More I was mentored in how to be professional and work in a lab setting.
TED SIMONS: I was going ask if there are scientists and engineers, professionals, even graduate students, folks future up the chain, when you see them working and doing things, that inspire you?

JEAN JUANG: Definitely. I have been inspired just to pursue science. It's my passion. I definitely want to spread that to my peers and also mentor others.

TED SIMONS: was it your passion beforehand or was it something you were thinking about and this cemented it for you?

JEAN JUANG: I was really curious about science but I didn't know what field I wanted to go into. After I worked with Dr. Newman, engineering is for me.

TED SIMONS: Scientists have to public papers and present what they have done to groups, organizations. Is that part of the process as well?

JEAN JUANG: Yes. Definitely. Scene is really great in that it let's you present at the Arizona science fair and the international science fair. There you learn from other people as well as you work on your public speaking.

TED SIMONS: you can learn quite a bit just presenting what you've done to other folks.

NATE NEWMAN: absolutely. We learn from the mentoring process when we have a new student from high school, they don't have all the college classes. So we have to make sure we understand it well enough that we can explain it in very simple terms, go back to the fundamentals, and it's amazing how few pieces get put together and Jean and so many of the students have accomplished so much.

TED SIMONS: The idea sounds from a distance, the idea is that it's the process of scientific discovery. That's very much at play here. Again, we're not talking academic exercise. We're talking scientific boots on the ground, if you will.
NATE NEWMAN: It's made a big difference to my program, it's made a big difference to many of the sponsors we have. I hope it's impacted the high school students in a very positive way.

TED SIMONS: Sounds like it has. Have you won some awards? Seems like this is the kind of thing that would win a lot of awards.

JEAN JUANG: I was grand award winner at Arizona state fair and a finalist at international science fair.

TED SIMONS: that has to be exciting as well.

JEAN JUANG: probably the best week of my life. I got to meet with nobel laureates, I got to meet Bill Nye, the science guy.

TED SIMONS: good for you!

JEAN JUANG: I got to go to universal studios. It was so much fun I didn't even realize how much I had learned.

TED SIMONS: You're having fun, winning contests, you're being mentored, you know you want to be a scientist. Where are you going to school?

JEAN JUANG: I'm going to Princeton university and I know I'm going to concentrate in science.

TED SIMONS: In science in general or anything specific?

JENA JUANG: I'm waiting until I get this to explore that. Even more research.

TED SIMONS: they call ASU the Princeton of the west.

JEAN JUANG: oh, yes.
NATE NEWMAN: we're working on it.
TED SIMONS: Again, winning contests, presenting, co-authoring or authoring these things, when they do want to go to college, when they are doing admissions process, that has to help a lot.
NATE NEWMAN: I think it's phenomenal. It also inspires students to want to learn more. Sitting in the classroom, answering questions in the back of the book, it's a necessary part of the education process. But when you're surrounded by graduate students who have no concepts and you have to learn them, it inspires me. It's amazing how their grades improve. I only used to take the best students with the top As. I took a few that didn't and I was shocked to see how their grades improved in everything. Now we have everything from high school, undergrad, the whole mix. It was a fun, productive experience.

TED SIMONS: congratulations to you and good luck at the Princeton of the east.

JEAN JUANG: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: good to have you.

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