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Highlands NSF Grant Will Provide Research Opportunities for Students, Train Science Teachers

Tatiana Timofeeva

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Highlands NSF Grant Will Provide Research Opportunities for Students, Train Science Teachers

New Mexico Highlands University was one of only eight universities to be awarded a five-year, $2.7 million National Science Foundation Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials grant in a nationwide competition.

The new grant was awarded in September. It will fund research and internship opportunities for the university’s students, and will also provide training for local science teachers. 

Highlands University chemistry professor Tatiana Timofeeva worked for two years to assemble the needed documentation to write the complex grant application. The university is collaborating with Georgia Tech on the grant, and Morehouse College is another partner. 

One research focus for the grant is in the area of biophotonics, the interaction between light and matter. 

“An example of biophotonics research is using light to kill cancer cells,” Timofeeva said. “This grant will help our students conduct cutting-edge research and present their findings at scientific conferences.”

Solar cell research is another focus of the grant. Solar cells harness the sun’s energy by converting sunlight into electricity. Research aimed at increasing the efficiency of solar cells could increase longevity and lower costs for the cells. 

The grant will also fund summer research internships for Highlands University students to work with scientists at the Sandia National Labs and Los Alamos National Labs.

“Anytime we can engage students in research and visit other laboratories, it’s great,” said Jennifer Lindline, a geology professor who is a co-investigator for the grant. “Highlands is a very student centered university, and Tatiana opened up five years of student research and internship opportunities with this grant.”

Rudy Martinez, chemistry professor and another co-investigator for the grant, said: “This grant is a big plus for our small university because it’s specifically for students and affords them opportunities we couldn’t otherwise provide. It will also help students believe that they can compete scientifically.”

Chemistry professor David Sammeth and computer science professor Gil Gallegos will also work with the grant.

“Future science jobs are evolving in nanotechnology, and this grant will do work in this area,” Sammeth said. “Employers of tomorrow will require that our students have this kind of expertise.”

Another important component of the grant is funding for four-week summer workshops for high school science teachers.

The workshops will be in the Highlands University science labs and will give the science teachers the chance to experience state-of-the-art laboratory research, design new lab experiments for their classes, and learn about the latest tools for teaching critical thinking. 

Science teachers from Robertson High School and West Las Vegas High School are among the teachers who will have the chance to participate in the workshops.

Timofeeva said one goal for the teacher workshops is that they will be a catalyst for more teachers encouraging their students to study science in college, and make Highlands their university of choice.