From Yale University (US) : “Guided by light the eye can’t see local students envision a future in STEM”

From Yale University (US)

November 15, 2021
Allison Bensinger

Nia Harmon, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, along with two colleagues from the Wang Research Lab, showed the students how carbon dioxide can be transformed into liquid fuels. Image: Jon Atherton.

The Zoom room opened and, within a minute, more than 100 middle school and high school students joined the online webinar. They began filling the chat with greetings to one another and with comments of excitement.

“I’ve been to one of these before,” one seventh grader from Orange wrote. “This is my first time!” another seventh grader from Sandy Hook chimed in. “Me too!” added another.

The students, from schools across Greater New Haven, were joining the “Yale West Campus Showcase,” a virtual tour of the cutting-edge science happening on Yale’s West Campus. Through a series of mini-lectures and experiments, they would learn about nanotechnology, photochemistry, laser technology, and more.

More than that, the students would get a firsthand glimpse of scientists who are working in their own backyard, pursuing careers that they might not imagine are within their grasp.

The event was hosted by the Office for Graduate Student Development & Diversity (OGSDD) and the Yale Pathways to Science program, which supports promising young scholars interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“Opening labs to local students is important because it makes the idea of being a scientist much more real,” said Josephine Jacob-Dolan, a chemistry graduate student, one of the event organizers, and an OGSDD Fellow. “I think it can be hard to imagine what a day to day in a field looks like until you can see it in action.”

Mengjing Wang, a postdoctoral associate in the Cha Research Group on Yale’s West Campus, records graduate student Joshua Pondick’s demonstration on nanomaterials. Image: Jon Atherton.

Ten students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences participated in the showcase. Some conducted demonstrations and presented research, while others filmed experiments and moderated Zoom Q&As.

“The West Campus Showcase is an exciting opportunity for the Graduate School to have a direct impact on middle school and high school students and to build relationships with the schools and communities in which they live,” said Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The event was focused on the theme “Belonging in Science,” which was inspired by initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM fields, Cooley said.

These are also critical priorities for the West Campus community, said Uzoji Nwanaji-Enwerem, a graduate student at the Yale School of Nursing, one of the event’s organizers and an OGSDD Fellow.

“Yale’s West Campus is committed to ensuring that its communities, its classrooms, its labs, are diverse and inclusive and that no matter your background or who you are, you are able to have your voice heard and contribute to the amazing field of science,” she said. “We want to ensure all students are supported, socially connected and, most importantly, respected.”

Stepping into the Energy Sciences Institute labs

The event, which was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, featured three lab demonstrations by researchers at the Energy Sciences Institute, which is focused on emerging challenges facing the environmental and energy sectors.

In one, graduate students Nia Harmon, Connor Rooney, and Bo Shang from the Wang Research Lab showed how carbon dioxide can be transformed into liquid fuels. They demonstrated two reduction reactions, a process that, through electrochemistry and photochemistry, involves the transfer of electrons.

“It’s like trading baseball cards,” Harmon, who is also an OGSDD Fellow, explained to the students. “You give one away and another accepts one.”

Dressed in Yale-blue lab coats, safety goggles, and masks, Rooney and Shang displayed a typical electrochemical cell. In their experiment, they added carbon dioxide into the cell, which held an electrode covered in a catalyst, creating a liquid fuel. Shang then showed students how to initiate the same reaction using sunlight.

Joshua Pondick, a graduate student in the Cha Research Group, explains how to assemble “atomic LEGOs” to students on Zoom. Image: Jon Atherton.

Later, Joshua Pondick, a graduate student who recently earned his Ph.D. in materials science (“Congrats Dr. Josh!” several students typed in the chat) used a microscope and optical table to show students how to stack and unstack nanomaterials. The process, he told students, is sort of like assembling “atomic LEGOs.”

Then Peijun Guo, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science, brought the students into a laser lab. Protected by laser goggles, Guo expertly weaved around the lab, explaining to his Zoom audience how to use sensor cards to visualize laser beams that would not normally be visible to the human eye.

“This main laser generates 1030 nanometer light, which the human eye cannot see,” Guo explained as he pointed to a laser. “In order for me to know where the laser is, I have to use this sensor card, which is sensitive to 1030 nanometer light and converts this light into green light so we can see where the light is.”

“Front row seat” to science

While the students were not able to visit West Campus for this year’s Science Showcase, the fact that the event was held online actually increased accessibility, which is one of the major goals of the Pathways to Science program, organizers said.

“We are able to show parts of the labs that students couldn’t visit in person due to safety restrictions,” said Jennifer Troiano, a chemistry graduate student and OGSDD Fellow who helped organize the event. “This allows them to see instruments and experiments they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. On Zoom, everyone gets a front row seat!”

This format also allowed for increased geographic diversity and outreach, added Troiano.

“We are able to show off the labs to people outside of the area,” she said. “We’ve had attendees from all over Connecticut and even outside of the state.”

To inspire local students to pursue education and careers in STEM, they will need greater access to experiences beyond their own classrooms, said Michael Crair, vice provost for research at Yale.

“By working together with the Graduate School and the Pathways to Science program,” he said, “we’re able to open doors to our research labs and encourage students of all backgrounds to feel like they belong in science.”

See the full article here .


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Yale University (US) is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The Collegiate School was renamed Yale College in 1718 to honor the school’s largest private benefactor for the first century of its existence, Elihu Yale. Yale University is consistently ranked as one of the top universities and is considered one of the most prestigious in the nation.

Chartered by Connecticut Colony, the Collegiate School was established in 1701 by clergy to educate Congregational ministers before moving to New Haven in 1716. Originally restricted to theology and sacred languages, the curriculum began to incorporate humanities and sciences by the time of the American Revolution. In the 19th century, the college expanded into graduate and professional instruction, awarding the first PhD in the United States in 1861 and organizing as a university in 1887. Yale’s faculty and student populations grew after 1890 with rapid expansion of the physical campus and scientific research.

Yale is organized into fourteen constituent schools: the original undergraduate college, the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and twelve professional schools. While the university is governed by the Yale Corporation, each school’s faculty oversees its curriculum and degree programs. In addition to a central campus in downtown New Haven, the university owns athletic facilities in western New Haven, a campus in West Haven, Connecticut, and forests and nature preserves throughout New England. As of June 2020, the university’s endowment was valued at $31.1 billion, the second largest of any educational institution. The Yale University Library, serving all constituent schools, holds more than 15 million volumes and is the third-largest academic library in the United States. Students compete in intercollegiate sports as the Yale Bulldogs in the NCAA Division I – Ivy League.

As of October 2020, 65 Nobel laureates, five Fields Medalists, four Abel Prize laureates, and three Turing award winners have been affiliated with Yale University. In addition, Yale has graduated many notable alumni, including five U.S. Presidents, 19 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, 31 living billionaires, and many heads of state. Hundreds of members of Congress and many U.S. diplomats, 78 MacArthur Fellows, 252 Rhodes Scholars, 123 Marshall Scholars, and nine Mitchell Scholars have been affiliated with the university.


Yale is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) (US) and is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. According to the National Science Foundation (US), Yale spent $990 million on research and development in 2018, ranking it 15th in the nation.

Yale’s faculty include 61 members of the National Academy of Sciences (US), 7 members of the National Academy of Engineering (US) and 49 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (US). The college is, after normalization for institution size, the tenth-largest baccalaureate source of doctoral degree recipients in the United States, and the largest such source within the Ivy League.

Yale’s English and Comparative Literature departments were part of the New Criticism movement. Of the New Critics, Robert Penn Warren, W.K. Wimsatt, and Cleanth Brooks were all Yale faculty. Later, the Yale Comparative literature department became a center of American deconstruction. Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, taught at the Department of Comparative Literature from the late seventies to mid-1980s. Several other Yale faculty members were also associated with deconstruction, forming the so-called “Yale School”. These included Paul de Man who taught in the Departments of Comparative Literature and French, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman (both taught in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature), and Harold Bloom (English), whose theoretical position was always somewhat specific, and who ultimately took a very different path from the rest of this group. Yale’s history department has also originated important intellectual trends. Historians C. Vann Woodward and David Brion Davis are credited with beginning in the 1960s and 1970s an important stream of southern historians; likewise, David Montgomery, a labor historian, advised many of the current generation of labor historians in the country. Yale’s Music School and Department fostered the growth of Music Theory in the latter half of the 20th century. The Journal of Music Theory was founded there in 1957; Allen Forte and David Lewin were influential teachers and scholars.

In addition to eminent faculty members, Yale research relies heavily on the presence of roughly 1200 Postdocs from various national and international origin working in the multiple laboratories in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and professional schools of the university. The university progressively recognized this working force with the recent creation of the Office for Postdoctoral Affairs and the Yale Postdoctoral Association.

Notable alumni

Over its history, Yale has produced many distinguished alumni in a variety of fields, ranging from the public to private sector. According to 2020 data, around 71% of undergraduates join the workforce, while the next largest majority of 16.6% go on to attend graduate or professional schools. Yale graduates have been recipients of 252 Rhodes Scholarships, 123 Marshall Scholarships, 67 Truman Scholarships, 21 Churchill Scholarships, and 9 Mitchell Scholarships. The university is also the second largest producer of Fulbright Scholars, with a total of 1,199 in its history and has produced 89 MacArthur Fellows. The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs ranked Yale fifth among research institutions producing the most 2020–2021 Fulbright Scholars. Additionally, 31 living billionaires are Yale alumni.

At Yale, one of the most popular undergraduate majors among Juniors and Seniors is political science, with many students going on to serve careers in government and politics. Former presidents who attended Yale for undergrad include William Howard Taft, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush while former presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton attended Yale Law School. Former vice-president and influential antebellum era politician John C. Calhoun also graduated from Yale. Former world leaders include Italian prime minister Mario Monti, Turkish prime minister Tansu Çiller, Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, German president Karl Carstens, Philippine president José Paciano Laurel, Latvian president Valdis Zatlers, Taiwanese premier Jiang Yi-huah, and Malawian president Peter Mutharika, among others. Prominent royals who graduated are Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and Olympia Bonaparte, Princess Napoléon.

Yale alumni have had considerable presence in U.S. government in all three branches. On the U.S. Supreme Court, 19 justices have been Yale alumni, including current Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh. Numerous Yale alumni have been U.S. Senators, including current Senators Michael Bennet, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Chris Coons, Amy Klobuchar, Ben Sasse, and Sheldon Whitehouse. Current and former cabinet members include Secretaries of State John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Cyrus Vance, and Dean Acheson; U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Robert Rubin, Nicholas F. Brady, Steven Mnuchin, and Janet Yellen; U.S. Attorneys General Nicholas Katzenbach, John Ashcroft, and Edward H. Levi; and many others. Peace Corps founder and American diplomat Sargent Shriver and public official and urban planner Robert Moses are Yale alumni.

Yale has produced numerous award-winning authors and influential writers, like Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Sinclair Lewis and Pulitzer Prize winners Stephen Vincent Benét, Thornton Wilder, Doug Wright, and David McCullough. Academy Award winning actors, actresses, and directors include Jodie Foster, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Elia Kazan, George Roy Hill, Lupita Nyong’o, Oliver Stone, and Frances McDormand. Alumni from Yale have also made notable contributions to both music and the arts. Leading American composer from the 20th century Charles Ives, Broadway composer Cole Porter, Grammy award winner David Lang, and award-winning jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer all hail from Yale. Hugo Boss Prize winner Matthew Barney, famed American sculptor Richard Serra, President Barack Obama presidential portrait painter Kehinde Wiley, MacArthur Fellow and contemporary artist Sarah Sze, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau, and National Medal of Arts photorealist painter Chuck Close all graduated from Yale. Additional alumni include architect and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Maya Lin, Pritzker Prize winner Norman Foster, and Gateway Arch designer Eero Saarinen. Journalists and pundits include Dick Cavett, Chris Cuomo, Anderson Cooper, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Fareed Zakaria.

In business, Yale has had numerous alumni and former students go on to become founders of influential business, like William Boeing (Boeing, United Airlines), Briton Hadden and Henry Luce (Time Magazine), Stephen A. Schwarzman (Blackstone Group), Frederick W. Smith (FedEx), Juan Trippe (Pan Am), Harold Stanley (Morgan Stanley), Bing Gordon (Electronic Arts), and Ben Silbermann (Pinterest). Other business people from Yale include former chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings Edward Lampert, former Time Warner president Jeffrey Bewkes, former PepsiCo chairperson and CEO Indra Nooyi, sports agent Donald Dell, and investor/philanthropist Sir John Templeton,

Yale alumni distinguished in academia include literary critic and historian Henry Louis Gates, economists Irving Fischer, Mahbub ul Haq, and Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman; Nobel Prize in Physics laureates Ernest Lawrence and Murray Gell-Mann; Fields Medalist John G. Thompson; Human Genome Project leader and National Institutes of Health (US) director Francis S. Collins; brain surgery pioneer Harvey Cushing; pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper; influential mathematician and chemist Josiah Willard Gibbs; National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee and biochemist Florence B. Seibert; Turing Award recipient Ron Rivest; inventors Samuel F.B. Morse and Eli Whitney; Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate John B. Goodenough; lexicographer Noah Webster; and theologians Jonathan Edwards and Reinhold Niebuhr.

In the sporting arena, Yale alumni include baseball players Ron Darling and Craig Breslow and baseball executives Theo Epstein and George Weiss; football players Calvin Hill, Gary Fenick, Amos Alonzo Stagg, and “the Father of American Football” Walter Camp; ice hockey players Chris Higgins and Olympian Helen Resor; Olympic figure skaters Sarah Hughes and Nathan Chen; nine-time U.S. Squash men’s champion Julian Illingworth; Olympic swimmer Don Schollander; Olympic rowers Josh West and Rusty Wailes; Olympic sailor Stuart McNay; Olympic runner Frank Shorter; and others.