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NSF supports renewable energy research, Native American outreach project

Supporting graduate students' research in renewable energy and carbon footprint-reduction technologies while allowing those students to hone their communication, teaching and outreach skills are goals of a newly funded National Science Foundation graduate fellows program.

The NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) program has awarded Cornell $1.5 million over four years to support about 25 graduate fellows doing renewable energy research, and who also show prowess and enthusiasm for communicating science to wider audiences. The program has a special emphasis on K-12 outreach, and Cornell's fellows will be working in partnership with Onondaga Nation schools close to the area.

"It's obvious the general public is hungry for an understanding of renewable energy, where there is a complex mix of science, technology, ethics, sociology, politics and economics," said Paulette Clancy, the Samuel W. and Diane M. Bodman Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "We want to hire students who are going to be interested in that kind of a role, to be good communicators of science."

The program will be housed in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. At its core will be research into new materials for energy creation and storage that achieve high performance and are environmentally benign. In particular, researchers will leverage Cornell's strengths in computational tools to design new energy materials, predict their properties and guide experiments to accelerate their development.

This emphasis on computational science and engineering will hopefully also contribute to the program's outreach goals, particularly aimed at people with hearing impairments. Given that computational work is done entirely visually, Clancy said, the program directors hope this might be another way to get more people interested in science, even if they have a disability.

The fellows will share their passion for energy research with middle and high school students in Onondaga Nation schools through collaborative projects. For example, the fellows may continue the design and building of a solar greenhouse, already under way at one of the schools.

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Blaine Friedlander