Nanotechnology Research Opportunity for Veteran-Teacher Gives Middle Schoolers a View of the Lab

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Middle school teacher and military veteran Eric Craven took on a new challenge in October 2012: nanomaterials research at the Engineering Research Center for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials (ERC-RMB), an NSF-sponsored center headquartered at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Mr. Craven, a 6th grade science and math teacher at ERC-RMB partner Kernodle Middle School, Greensboro, NC, is enjoying the opportunity to learn in the lab and be able to teach his students about the research experience.


Through the Research Experiences for Veterans/Teachers (REV/T) program, Mr. Craven is working in the ERC-RMB lab under the guidance of Dr. Dhananjay Kumar on a nanofabrication process called pulsed laser deposition (PLD) to make titanium and titanium nitride nanowires and coatings. This is a real research project that ERC-RMB researchers and students are working on, so Mr. Craven is having the full experience, including the frustrations and false starts that go with any envelope-pushing experimental research. It offers a great example of critical thinking process skills for his 100 sixth graders. “I am emphasizing that, while experiments often fail, we learn as much or more from failure as success,” he said.


REV/T is a variation of NSF’s summer Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program that offers deep, year-round research involvement, with the same goal of giving teachers valuable experiences that they can pass on to their students. After his daily school duties, Mr. Craven heads to the lab to participate in research activities on the PLD manufacturing process and learn advanced materials characterization techniques such as X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy. Now, Mr. Craven is carving out a new related research area for himself, working with Dr. Kumar’s graduate student on a protocol for making silver thin films and nanowires.

Mr. Craven’s positive experience has encouraged two of his science and math-teaching colleagues to apply (and be accepted) to RMB’s summer 2013 RET program. They are looking forward to working together on developing a teaching module to use at their school in the coming academic year.

Armed with an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Virginia and ROTC experience on campus, Eric Craven served over 10 years in the United States Army (1983-1993). After a follow-on experience at Owens-Corning, a major manufacturer of fiberglass yarn used in textiles for printed circuit boards, fabrics, and ballistic armor, he obtained teaching certification in middle school math and science through North Carolina’s Lateral Entry Program for Teachers and has taught at Kernodle since 2002. He has aggressively pursued professional development along with classroom teaching, earning a Master of Education in teaching and curriculum at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro with a focus on middle school science, and National Board Certification as a math teacher. Says Craven, “I’m always trying to grow professionally and personally, and the REV/T opportunity gives me new knowledge in a field that is so different from my prior experiences.”