What’s a microscope? A young student, perhaps a first-grader, nailed the answer.

“High five!” said Divya Shankar, a JSNN master’s student showing groups of budding scientists cells of an organism.

The Gateway to Science event last week at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN) had attracted almost 100 visitors by mid-morning. Two school groups, home school groups and a church group were among the early visitors. The open house event lasted all day. (The final attendance tally was 135.) The theme of the science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) event was “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a scientist?”

The young people toured the facility, seeing the cleanrooms behind glass walls – and lots of equipment. “I saw a person with a thingy in there!” one preschooler excitedly told her friend, as they observed researchers in a cleanroom. They also stopped at a variety of experiment stations. Doctoral students Richard Vestal and Steven Coleman were on the second floor, getting the guests jazzed about science with demonstrations at tables. They are both UNCG students. Dankar is an A&T student.

Near the entrance, UNCG master’s student Jesse Plotkin, in his second year at JSNN, showed visitors how to make “elephant toothpaste.” He explained, “It teaches about enzymes.” The students crowding around just knew it looked cool and they wanted to know more.

JSNN is a collaborative project of NC A&T and UNCG. Its mission is to train students to conduct research in nanoscience and nanoengineering, and to work closely with the Piedmont Triad community to help enhance opportunities for economic and academic growth through its outreach and engagement activities.

It’s a milestone moment for JSNN. The first doctoral degrees will be awarded in a few weeks. The first female at JSNN to earn a Ph.D. will be UNCG’s Rabeah Rawashdeh. UNCG’s Joseph Estevez will be the first JSNN male to earn a Ph.D. These UNCG degrees will be conferred May 9.

Just as these two students were once inspired to pursue science, now a new generation is hearing the call.

Dr. Joseph Starobin, professor of nanoscience at JSNN, paused on his way to a National Science Foundation meeting as the building filled with young people energized about science. “These kids are our future,” he said. “You see their excitement.”

By Mike Harris, University Relations

Visual: UNCG master’s student Jesse Plotkin (in plaid shirt) does a demonstration about enzymes. Photo courtesy JSNN.