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Thursday, 23 February 2012

An Early Start on Innovation: Corporations inspire the next generation of researchers to embrace science and innovation

R&D Magazine
Feb 23, 2012

Girl Scouts in Phoenix work on the Electronic Matching Game, one of 22 Agilent After School kits. Photo: Agilent

In order for technology companies to bring innovative products to market, they need enthusiastic, educated scientists and engineers to drive the process. To inspire the next generation of researchers, some industrial developers are going back to school.

A 2011 Harvard University study found that U.S. students ranked behind 31 other countries in math and science efficiency, and fewer than one in three students are proficient in science after high school.

A recent teleconference held in October by STEM Connects, a curriculum and career development resource from Discovery Education—an educational resource for teachers—reported that 10 to 15% of students in the U.S. enter college as science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) majors; in China that number is 30 to 40%, paving the way for a scientific and technological advantage for that nation.

"I think people need to realize that a lack of students going into STEM fields not only affects the learning curves in schools, but it also affects our global competitiveness and our ability as a nation to innovate," says Jennifer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation, Iselin, N.J. "If we don’t have a smart workforce, we are not going to have sophisticated R&D happening."

To drive more interest to these fields, industrial companies are helping students understand the importance of science and mathematics, and are promoting STEM education and innovation to the next generation.

From school to scientific discovery
"One of the keys to innovation is engaging the future scientists and engineers of our nation," says Tom Buckmaster, president of Honeywell Hometown Solutions, Morris Township, N.J. "The more students that have an interest in science and math means the possibility of more scientists and engineers our society could have, which will expand our nation’s capacity for innovation."

Agilent Technologies Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., promotes hands-on learning to enhance understanding of basic science concepts. The company has created the Agilent After School program, a hands-on, experimental science program targeted at children from the ages 9 to 13. The program has reached 550,000 students globally; and Agilent has invested around $3.5 million in the program in the past 10 years.

The program features 22 kits or projects that range from simple experiments for elementary school students, to more complex experiments that require advanced critical thinking and measurement skills for high school students. Projects include creating electronic circuit boards and balloon- or solar-powered cars, learning how to clean up oil spills, and solving a crime scene mystery. Held at universities and other local facilities, Agilent employees teach the students the basics about their projects and what they are creating, providing the students with knowledge that they can take back to their classrooms.

"Students really love the hands-on aspect of the projects, and in turn love leaving with what they built," says Terry Lincoln, Agilent Technologies’ global signature programs manager. "They also love the engagement between themselves and the employee running the program and talking about their project, making them want to take their projects outside of the program and into the classroom."

Science hits the road
Morris Township, N.J.-based Honeywell International has partnered with NASA to create FMA Live!, a program that explains Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion in an exciting and entertaining way. The MTV-style interactive traveling show teaches basic science concepts and engages future engineers and scientists in the seventh to ninth grades.

FMA Live! features high-energy actors, music, videos, and demonstrations to teach Newton's laws of motion and the process of scientific inquiry. During each performance, students, teachers, and school administrators interact with three professional actors on stage in front of a live audience.

The actors use a large Velcro wall to demonstrate inertia when a student jumps off a springboard and is immediately stuck to the wall. Go-carts race across the stage to illustrate action and reaction. Extreme wrestling and a giant soccer ball show how force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. All three laws are shown simultaneously when a participant—usually a teacher or administrator—rides a futuristic hover chair and collides face first with a gigantic cream pie, exciting the students and providing lasting and memorable lessons, says Buckmaster.
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