The National Science Foundation has awarded the Lynch School of Education a three-year, $1.2 million grant to engage low-income high school students in a science and emerging agricultural technology project, designed to guide them in conducting scientific research and prepare them for post-secondary scientific study.

Expected to begin this month, the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) project, “Seeding the Future with STEM (Science, Technology Engineering & Math) Researchers Through Emerging Agricultural Technologies,” will involve 30 Boston Public Schools students from populations underrepresented in science, supported by near-peer mentors, STEM career development experts and science educators in a college-focused mentoring model.

G. Michael Barnett
G. Michael Barnett (Lee Pellegrini)

“We are very grateful to the NSF for its support of this evidence-based project,” said Lynch School Professor of Science Education G. Michael Barnett, the project’s principal investigator.  “Participants will not only learn STEM concepts and the relevance of STEM skills but will be prepared to attend a post-secondary institution, and to fulfill future career aspirations.”  

Students – to be recruited from Brighton High School, West Roxbury Academy and The Urban Science Academy – will conduct authentic scientific research using a transparent hydrogel that behaves like soil. They also will learn to build and code with a Raspberry Pi, a small, affordable computer ideal for learning programming, enabling them to share their data with agronomists and plant scientists. The research, focused on manipulating environmental variables, will mirror work undertaken at the Cademartiri Lab of Iowa State University, a project collaborator.

Plant roots remain underexplored scientifically due to regular soil’s obscurity. However, experiments using transparent soil – a new development that allows scientists to observe and study plant root systems in a more realistic and authentic environment than through hydroponics – offer students the opportunity to contribute their findings to a scientific database. The ITEST project is thought to be the first effort to bring the emerging field of transparent soil into an educational setting, according to the faculty team.

“The program will build the capacity of our youth participants to make potential scientific discoveries, as well as develop youth leaders who will become role models in their community through mentorship,” said Barnett. “It’s important that youth have the opportunity to explore and experiment with emerging technologies so they will be ready for the jobs and opportunities that do not yet exist.”
In addition to Barnett, the faculty leadership team includes Lynch School faculty members David Blustein, in the area of career and college planning, and Belle Liang in peer mentoring, as well as Catherine Wong, director of BC’s Urban Outreach Initiatives. Assistant Professor Ludovico Cademartiri, who heads the Cademartiri Lab, has led the development of transparent soil.

“We are excited to collaborate with the Cademartiri Lab as their expertise will enable us to create instructional materials that can be used in any classroom,” said Barnett.

--Phil Gloudemans | University Communications