STEM Students from Massachusetts Heading to M&M 2023

Middle and High School students from Massachusetts to present their research at Microscopy conference M&M 2023

Blog updated with M&M 2023 photos and video
A group of hard-working middle and high school students in northeast Massachusetts have conducted research during this school year that has earned them a spot at the prestigious Microscopy & Microanalysis (M&M) annual conference. Four of the young authors of two papers are headed to the major conference to be held in Minneapolis this July. There they will present their work in an interdisciplinary (cross-cutting) symposium, focusing on “expanding engagement to build a bigger, better future for the M&M community.”
This is the fourth year that local teachers’ guidance has brought them into the world of professional research and to M&M.
Encouraged, inspired, and lead by science and engineering teachers Saman Abbas and Doug Shattuck, the students who attend St. Joseph’s School and Malden Catholic High School are engaged in the outreach program of Professor Marcus Buhler, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics. Students also have access to the impressive lab resources at Malden Catholic. Additionally, they tap into the microscopy resources and expertise at JEOL USA in Peabody, Mass. JEOL’s Vern Robertson provides high magnification SEM images and X-ray microanalysis as well as lively talks during STEM fairs and conference presentations.
STEM students present poster at M&M 2023 "A Beneficial Use of Synthetic Basalt Fibers"
This year, the two research projects the students decided to pursue are 1) exploring lunar resources for human habitation on the moon, and 2) analyzing the natural radiation resistance of a microorganism called Tardigrades that could be applied to sunscreen.
Potential lunar resources for construction contain basalt, which happens to be used in building materials on earth. They are light but strong. “Basalt fibers are spun through a die and look like cotton candy, or human hair” says Mr. Shattuck. As for its stability “You can do magic with it. Kits are sold to patch concrete, and it is much stronger than steel rebar which is typically used in Portland cement.” Multiple tests on the fibers included the use of electron microscope data and EDS analyses provided by Mr. Robertson.
As for the sunscreen research, students looked to Tardigrades, invertebrate microscopic animals that are difficult to see with the human eye. They are found in mosses and lichens, soils and sand covered in water. Tardigrades have a special ability to resist radiation. Shattuck said that fact led students to the question, “How could the Damage Suppressor Protein (DSUP) that naturally shields Tardigrades become an active ingredient in a protective sunscreen for humans?” In their research, students applied the protein to clear plastic beads and exposed them to UV light. The application shows promise for preventing exposure to radiation from sunlight.
With research ranging from Martian and lunar regolith for extraterrestrial building materials, to spider webs for tensile strength (a research project a few years ago), and Tardigrade proteins for sunscreen, Shattuck and Robertson have certainly enjoyed learning along with the STEM students. “This is a real-world opportunity for students to conduct research,” said Robertson. JEOL is pleased to be part of this work and we hope to share some of the students’ work in our booth #706 at M&M 2023.

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