TTU engineering group inspires inner-city schools

Science teacher William Corley, who teaches at F.W. Ballou High School, a local District of Columbia public inner-city school, says a one-day visit by a Tennessee Tech University professor and colleagues left his students with invaluable inspiration.

Venkat Subramanian, who leads the Modeling, Analysis and Process-control Laboratory for Electrochemical Systems, or MAPLE lab, housed in TTU's Chemical Engineering Department, recently helped 30 Ballou students hold a fuel cell car competition designed to introduce them to electrochemical technology and its potential impact on everyday life.

"We are responding to the need to get students interested in science by showing them real applications of how science and engineering can provide answers to issues such as the country's energy needs," said Subramanian.

"We take several fuel cell cars and challenge teams of students to calculate how much fuel, in this case water, is needed to make their cars travel 50 feet and come closest to the target," explained Subramanian. "They learn to plan and make correlations to make their cars competitive."

Subramanian and colleagues from the Electrochemical Society's Industrial Electrochemistry and Electrochemical Engineering Division conducted the same program in Cancun, Mexico, late last year and have plans to replicate it again in a Phoenix high school this spring. Their goal is to reach inner-city minority students who have little opportunity to get hands-on experience with experiments.

"As an inner-city school, we don't have the money or resources for consumable items needed for experiments, so it makes a huge difference for a group to come in and provided these opportunities," said Corley.

Subramanian says he convinced that even one day of getting hands-on experience can make a difference in these students' futures. Corley agrees.

"Now my students are all about studying hydrogen and understanding how fuel cells work," said Corley.

"My students are enthused; this really got them started," he said. "They now understand the future of this technology and what types of knowledge and skills it will take to be a part of it. "

The latest edition of Electrochemical Society's Interface , its premier publication, features this outreach program. But you can't turn more than a page or two without finding MAPLE group members being honored for their work more than a half dozen times.

"We've received more than $1 million in funding from various agencies in the last three years, and we are receiving increased recognition for our leadership in our field," said Subramanian.

In the publication, a feature article about TTU post doctoral student Vijayasekaran Boovaragavan highlights his work as 2007 Oronzio de Nora Industrial Electrochemistry Fellowship Recipient. An article on his work to optimize lithium-ion batteries is also featured. The group has also published 20 peer reviewed research articles in the last five years.

TTU doctoral student Vinten Diwakar was also elected to receive the 2008 Student Achievement Award at the spring ECS meeting.

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