BLACKSBURG, Va., September 22, 2014--In recent years, the push to increase interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers has been a matter of course for universities and K-12 schools. But now the stimulus is coming from the students themselves, with fascinating results.

One such program that harnesses the power of student ingenuity is the Virtual Kids’ Tech University with its Bridging the Gap program in Physics. Undergraduate students Lily Hummer of Montclair, Virginia and Adam Mills of Princeton, West Virginia  have spent this past summer developing online modules for elementary and middle school students that will encourage their interest in STEM subjects.

“We designed the program to be implemented in both formal and informal settings.  The kids will have the chance to practice using various tools of science in an interactive format as well as practice valuable math and scientific reasoning skills,” said Mills. “The goal was to create a series of modules that will give kids a basic understanding of queueing theory and cells with the hopes of showing how queueing theory could be applied in cellular processes.”

The project is part of an NSF grant to William Mather, assistant professor of physics and biology, and Kristy Collins, education and outreach program manager of Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. The modules developed by Hummer and Mills are based on research that investigates how cells communicate and respond to stress. Ultimately, such research may help not only with understanding biological circuits but also telecommunication and transportation systems.

And it will also hopefully attract students to careers in these budding fields.

“The modules are likely to be unique in online education, in that they leverage simulations derived from queueing theory to teach kids about the scientific method.  We use the example of how many clerks are needed at a grocery store--the answer is not generally the obvious answer,” said Mather.

A university-level Research Institute of Virginia Tech, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute was established in 2000 with an emphasis on informatics of complex interacting systems scaling the microbiome to the entire globe. It helps solve challenges posed to human health, security, and sustainability. Headquartered at the Blacksburg campus, the institute occupies 154,600 square feet in research facilities, including state-of-the-art core laboratory and high-performance computing facilities, as well as research offices in the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia.


Tiffany L Trent

September 19, 2014