Tufts professor launches program to mentor deaf students in state-of-the-art physics research

07/20/04

Funded by National Science Foundation, initiative may pave the way for increased opportunities for aspiring deaf or hard of hearing scientists

Tufts University Professor Peggy Cebe, an expert in the rapidly growing field of nanocomposite polymer physics, is mentoring four deaf students working this summer in her research laboratory. The students are adding tiny impurities to polymer materials to form plastics with greatly improved strength and durability.

The program is designed to increase the participation of deaf and hard of hearing students in science, technology and engineering. Cebe is mentoring students from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, and Gallaudet University.

"This is one of the most exciting areas of polymer science, and hands-on experience in a lab doing exciting work is key to a student's choice of careers in science," said Cebe, professor of physics at Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences. "There are few role models for the deaf and hard of hearing students. We hope the interns will ultimately become role models for others and spread the excitement of research to their peers at their home institutions."

According to NTID researchers, there are approximately 27,000 deaf or hard of hearing people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24.

This project is funded by Cebe's three-year $132, 000 National Science Foundation grant from the Polymers Program of the Division of Materials Research to provide deaf and hard of hearing students with the opportunity to combine classroom learning with hands-on lab experience.

"I'm excited that Dr. Cebe has included in her program students who are in baccalaureate programs at RIT and supported through the National Technical Institute for the Deaf," said Sharon Rasmussen, interim chairperson of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology. "I await their return so that they can share the thrill of this cutting-edge research with their peers."

During their four weeks at Tufts, the students are learning about the chemistry and physics of polymer molecules, crystallization and melting of polymers, the interaction of X-rays and light with polymers, mechanical properties of polymers, and the effects of thermal processing on the structure and ultimate properties of the polymers.

An interdisciplinary team of professors and graduate students from Tufts is involved in the project, including faculty from the physics, chemistry and biological and chemical engineering departments.

The Tufts program incorporates a classroom portion to teach the students how to communicate effectively: how to write a scientific report, how to maintain a laboratory notebook, how to make a group meeting presentation, and how to organize a poster presentation. The students present their results at weekly group meetings, and will write a summary report at the end of the internship

Sign language interpreters are provided for all the classroom lessons and the group laboratory instrument training sessions.

"Professor Cebe is an expert in this field, and we are proud that she is dedicated to advancing these exceptional students in science," said Susan Ernst, dean of Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences. "Cebe's passion for research and admirable professional and personal motivations for leading a program like this at Tufts make us all proud."

Cebe has held past positions as the chair of the American Physical Society Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and as the chair of the American Chemical Society Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering.

Additional work in Cebe's lab includes structural studies of novel polymer thin films and silkworm silks. Professor Cebe has long experience constructing and analyzing high-performance polymer materials, first as a graduate student at Cornell, then as a researcher at the Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech, before moving on to faculty appointments at M.I.T. and Tufts. Some of her recent graduates have been employed by Northeastern University, and companies such as Exxon Research Center, Michelin Americas Research Center, and Cisco Systems. For more information on Cebe and other polymer work being done in her lab, see http://www.tufts.edu/~rtobin/CMP_Polymer.html

Source: Eurekalert & others

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