High School Students See STEM in Action in Summer Research Program on the NCAT Campus

Achievement date: 

Two North Carolina high school students participated in a six-week summer program to learn about STEM research and careers through active experience in research on materials used in biomedical devices at North Carolina A&T University (NCAT). This Young Scholars (YS) program is an initiative of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials (RMB), which is headquartered at NCAT with partner institutions including the Universities of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.


The YS program is conducted by RMB to help cultivate a pipeline of future engineers and researchers by engaging them in their work on "smart" implants to improve treatments for orthopedic, craniofacial, neural, and cardiovascular ailments. It is open to rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors and carries a stipend for the students. Their core activities include developing web-based lab experiments and video-based and other materials for class projects, illustrating fundamental scientific and engineering principles. The program consists of a variety of supporting activities, including orientation, workshops, seminars, focus groups, briefing sessions, newsletter and journal production, a poster session, field trips, faculty-driven research, and final presentations. The briefing sessions were held every week to elicit feedback from the participants and the coordinator and convey instructions on preparing newsletters, journals, posters, and final oral presentations. Field trips were taken to The Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship and Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in Greensboro, and to the joint department of Biomedical Engineering at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, respectively. The RMB YS program is operated concurrently with the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program, with many shared activities including faculty-delivered presentations such as “Responsible Conduct in Research,” “Bioethics,” and “Intellectual Property,” as well as several on technical research topics. The students also shared review of their concluding projects with RET participants and vice versa. As their final activity, the YS students gave PowerPoint presentations to visitors and faculty mentors and fielded questions on their research.


The 2017 summer program included two Young Scholars: Olga Fialkova, a 17-year-old 11th grader attending the Middle College at Guilford Technical Community College; and Naya Henry, a 15-year-old junior at Weaver Academy. Olga’s research was on computer modeling of a screw implant for a torn ACL. Using a computer-aided design software package, she designed two different fixation screws, then worked to improve the screw thread for stronger pullout strength without damaging the screw and the bone. Naya conducted research on the effect of zinc content on the structure of magnesium alloys. She used sophisticated laboratory equipment to investigate each specimen’s surface, composition, and grain (the inner structure of a metal is made up of individual crystalline areas known as “grains”). She concluded that the measurement methods do not affect grain size but the sample preparation method does affect the quality of grain boundaries, and therefore measurement quality.