CCNY, NASA & DoD Outreach Programs Train
Young Scientists from Middle School to College
City College is the site of several major research centers,
institutes and a consortium that have placed CCNY at the forefront
of photonics and laser technologies research and development.
Two of these are the NASA Center for Optical Sensing and Imaging
(NASA-COSI); and the DoD Center for Nanoscale Photonics (DoD-CNP).
NASA-COSI was established with support from a five-year $6
million University Research Center Program grant from the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is headed by myself
and Dr. Sam Ahmed, who is the Herbert G. Kayser Professor of
Electrical Engineering at CCNY. NASA-COSI’s mission is
to develop enabling optical technologies, laser instrumentation
and methods for sensing and imaging of the Earth and the environment.
It is also designed to recruit and train underrepresented minority
students and women at the high school, undergraduate and graduate
levels and encourage them to enter these important fields.
Gonzalez & Elizabeth Paulino
The Center for Nanoscale Photonics, which I head, was established
at CCNY under a five-year, $4 million grant from the U.S. Department
of Defense (DoD) to fund advances in photonics at the nanoscale.
Researchers are seeking to merge and combine photonics and
nanotechnology in order to keep the U.S. at the forefront of
these vitally important technologies. Like NASA-COSI, the DoD
Center for Nanoscale Photonics includes an important and innovative
education and outreach program to promote student participation
in research and increase the number of science, mathematics
and engineering graduates, including members of underrepresented
minority groups and women.
If the U.S. is to maintain its technological supremacy, our
nation must lead in cutting edge fields such as nanotechnology
and photonics. Nanotechnology involves objects that are measured
in nanometers, which measure a billionth of a meter, or a millionth
of a millimeter. A major goal of nanotechnology is to create
tiny devices—called nanomachines—capable of manufacturing
other objects one atom or molecule at a time and of processing
information on a molecular scale.
Photonics involves the use of small units of light called
photons, which have unique properties, can be directed easily
and emit short pulses on the order of the molecular timescale
measured in picoseconds (trillionths of a second), and femtoseconds,
which are a thousand times faster than picoseconds. Photonics
techniques are used to study biomedical systems and offer great
promise for quick, accurate and non-invasive diagnosis of various
types of cancer. Other applications include a broad range of
studies in biomedical optics as well as primary events in photosynthesis,
vision and tissue diagnosis; and studying fundamental energy
transfer processes in liquids, semiconductors and solids.
It is vitally important for America to utilize the talents
of all of our people including minorities and women—in
these research endeavors. That is why NASA-COSI and DoD-CNP,
in cooperation with CCNY and several other colleges in the
New York City area, have incorporated major outreach programs
to students in the city’s schools that offer them the
opportunity to conduct research with faculty mentors. The programs
support students at middle schools and high schools, as well
as at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in order to encourage
them to pursue careers in mathematics and the sciences.
Recently, the fruits of these outreach efforts were on spectacular
display at CCNY during NASA Research Day, whose theme was “Becoming
a Scientist: The Pathway from Middle School to College.” This
event was organized by Dr. Manuel Zevallos, who is the coordinator
of NASA-COSI and the Deputy Director of CCNY’s Institute
for Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Lasers.
Sixteen students in CCNY’s NASA-COSI and DoD-CNP programs,
along with 40 students enrolled in similar programs at six
other participating colleges, presented their research results.
They also heard presentations by Dr. Jack A. Kaye, Director
of the Division of Research in the NASA Office of Earth Science,
whose topic was “From Science Classroom to NASA Careers”;
and Dr. Laura Danly, Senior Manager of Astrophysics Education
at the American Museum of Natural History, who spoke about “NASA
and the Exploration of Space: Latest Achievements.”
Typical of the outstanding students involved in CCNY’s
research outreach programs are Elizabeth Paulino and Febiana
Gonzalez of the Mott Hall Middle School; and Caesar Pereira
of Archbishop Stepinac High School. Ms. Paulino and Ms. Gonzalez
reported on their research project entitled “Fluorescence
and Absorption Spectra of Bio-molecules”; while Mr. Pereira
described his research involving “Synthesis and Study
of Fluorescence Properties of Cr-Doped LilnSiO4-Ca2Sio2”
Ms. Paulino and Ms. Gonzalez both graduated from the Mott
Hall Middle School in June 2005 and are enrolled in the NASA-COSI
outreach summer research program. They also conducted research
at CCNY last year under the Student Apprentice Research Program.
Last year, Ms. Paulino won first place along with two of her
classmates in the NASA Student Involvement Program Science
and Technology Journalism Competition. Their video project,
entitled “Fashions in Space,” described how different
fabrics can block radiation that might be harmful to astronauts
in space. She will attend the Manhattan Center for Science
and Math H.S. in the fall, and has a strong interest in computer
Ms. Gonzalez, a native of the Dominican Republic, will attend
the Urban Assembly Business H.S. for Young Women this fall.
Her academic interests include biology and earth science.
Caesar Pereira graduated from Archbishop Stepinac H.S. last
June and is a second-year NASA SHARP student at CCNY. He will
attend Cooper Union College in the fall and is planning to
major in mechanical engineering. Mr. Pereira was selected to
attend the recent National Youth Leadership Conference in Washington,
D.C., where he had the chance to learn about the inner workings
of the government and meet with Senator Charles Schumer and
other government officials. His awards include the New York
State Scholarship for Academic Excellence and the U.S. Air
Force Award for Technology.
Elizabeth Paulino, Febiana Gonzalez and Caesar Pereira epitomize
the success of CCNY’s outreach programs in cooperation
with NASA-COSI and the DoD Center for Nanoscale Photonics.
We are extremely proud of them and their fellow students.
Outreach programs such as those offered at The City College
play key roles in offering students like Ms. Paulino, Ms. Gonzalez
and Mr. Pereira the chance to utilize the full measure of their
talents and fulfill their scientific potential. Our nation’s
technological standing will depend in good measure upon the
success of students like these. They are a terrific investment
in America’s future, and we are extremely grateful to
NASA and the DoD for their strong support!#
Dr. Robert R. Alfano is the Distinguished Professor of
Science and Engineering, The City College/CUNY.