CORVALLIS, Ore. – A group of five graduate students from a leading national research center located at both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon will begin working this fall at Hermiston High School.
The students – one from Oregon State, three from the University of Oregon and one from Washington University in St. Louis – will work in three-week shifts during the school year with chemistry teacher Lisa Frye and her students. Run by the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (CSMC), the program builds on a decade of classroom assistance provided by UO scientists and graduate students in Hermiston. Leading off on Oct. 1 will be Geneva Laurita-Plankis of Oregon State.
Laurita-Plankis, the first member of her family to go into science, grew up in Strasburg, Colo., a town of about 2,500 in the state’s agricultural eastern plains. As an undergraduate at Northern Colorado University, she spent a summer working in the chemistry laboratory of Mas Subramanian at Oregon State.
“I enjoyed it so much that when I started thinking about graduate school, it seemed natural to come back to his lab,” she said.
Laurita-Plankis is studying photo catalysts, compounds that use light to promote chemical reactions. She hopes to develop methods for generating hydrogen for energy or turning hazardous wastes into harmless compounds.
Her experience growing up in a small agricultural community motivated her to work with students in Hermiston. “My high school had about 300 students when I graduated,” she says. “It’s grown a little since then.” She traces her own love of science to “an awesome chemistry teacher,” and she hopes to provide similar inspiration to others.
All of the graduate students are affiliated with the CSMC, a research partnership that has attracted more than $22 million in support from the National Science Foundation, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and private companies such as HP and Corning. The center’s goal is the development of more powerful and environmentally sound production methods for electronic systems, including large flat-panel displays and solar collectors.
The center also aims to increase the diversity of students in science, engineering and mathematics fields. About 40 percent of Hermiston High’s students are members of minority groups, and half come from low-income families.