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Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science

Review the physical science concepts needed to teach today's standards-based curricula in this video course for elementary school teachers.

A video course for grades K-6 teachers; 8 one-hour video programs, course guide, and website. (Please pardon the dust as we work to finish this series on the new website. The videos are now published for each unit.)

By exploring topics that range from the essential properties of aluminum foil to the plasma that makes up the sun, Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science provides participants with enhanced understanding of content and how it connects to the elementary school classroom.

Workshop Sessions

Essential Science for Teachers

Essential Science for Teachers courses are designed to help K-6 teachers gain an understanding of some of the bedrock science concepts they need to teach today’s standards-based curricula. The series of courses includes Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Physical Science.

Physical Science consists of eight one-hour video programs accompanied by print and Web materials that provide in-class activities and homework explorations. Real-world examples, demonstrations, animations, still graphics, and interviews with scientists compose content segments that are intertwined with in-depth interviews with children that uncover their ideas about the topic at hand. Each program also features an elementary school teacher and his or her students exploring the topic using exemplary science curricula. Use the complete course for teacher education or professional development, or individual programs for content review.

Course Overview

What does a block of wood have in common with a cluster of galaxies billions of light years away? What about a giant sequoia tree in a rare coastal rainforest and the grains of sand found on beaches all over the world? The answer lies in what each is made of: matter. Matter is a fundamental concept in all of the sciences that links the infinitesimal world observed under a microscope to the vast reaches of space revealed by the world’s most powerful telescopes. It is what we and everything else are made of.

Matter is a topic that can be an integral and engaging part of science learning at all educational levels — starting in grades K-6 or even earlier. In the elementary school, a study of matter provides the foundation for understanding the physical nature of all things. Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science is a content course designed to help K-6 teachers enhance their understandings of matter as one of the “big ideas” in the physical sciences. The main goal of this course is to provide teachers with learning opportunities that will directly inform their own classroom practice. To do this, the course addresses concepts that are appropriate at a variety of grade levels and does so in a cyclic manner, revisiting concepts at more sophisticated levels as the course progresses.

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science is one in a series of three video-, print-, and web-based science courses for elementary school teachers. These courses will help teachers better understand the science concepts that underlie the content they teach. Other courses include Life Science and Earth and Space Science.

Physical Science is composed of eight three-hour sessions, each with a one-hour video program addressing a topic area related to matter that is likely to be part of any elementary school science curriculum. Posing the question “What is matter?”, Session 1 begins the course by generating a working definition of matter, followed by an introduction to the properties of matter and classification. Session 2 focuses on modeling in science by looking at historical models of matter followed by closely examining the model that is used today: the particle model. Sessions 3 and 4 introduce what happens on a molecular level when matter changes state or is mixed with other matter, which leads to a distinction between physical and chemical changes. In Sessions 5 and 6, the particle model is extended to explore why matter rises or sinks. Finally, Sessions 7 and 8 highlight the interplay between energy and matter as heat, forces, and the effects of unusual conditions on matter are investigated.

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science also focuses on the ideas that children bring to the classroom about these topics. In order to keep the content grounded at the elementary school level, we interview and observe children in a clinical setting — what we call the “Science Studio” — to uncover their thinking. The research literature shows that their ideas are typical of students in the K-6 age group. The video content is supplemented in print and web materials by a bibliography that suggests readings from the research literature.

Each program also features one or more elementary school classrooms where a teacher and her students explore the topic using exemplary curriculum materials. A curriculum spokesperson may be interviewed to provide insight into the importance of the topic at the elementary school level. Finally, interviews with one or more scientists and/or science historians offer applications of important concepts to real examples, past and present.

By exploring topics that range from the essential properties of aluminum foil to the plasma that makes up the sun, Physical Science strives to provide participants not only with enhanced content understandings, but also with understandings of how this content connects to the elementary school classroom.

Course Structure

On-Site Activities

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science consists of eight sessions, each of which includes group activities and discussions as well as an hour-long video program. Weekly sessions, which should be scheduled for approximately three hours.

This guide provides activities and discussion topics for pre- and post-viewing investigations that complement each of the eight one-hour video programs.

Getting Ready (Site Investigation)
In preparation for watching the program, you will engage in 60 minutes of investigation through discussion and activity.

Watch the Course Video
Then you will watch the 60-minute video, which includes classroom footage, commentary, science demonstrations, and more.

Going Further (Site Investigation)
Wrap up the session with an additional 60 minutes of investigation through discussion and activity.

Between Sessions

Homework Assignments
Each session will contain the following homework activities. All participants should complete the assignments marked with * — the Reading Assignment, the Problem Set, the Ongoing Concept Mapping, and Preparing for the Next Session.

Reading Assignment*
Reading Assignments will help you to draw connections between the session topics and research on children’s ideas. Readings will be discussed at the session that follows their assignment. The readings can be found in the Appendix.

Physical Science Problem Set*
Each session will be accompanied by a problem set that will reinforce content learning by asking questions that apply or extend physical science concepts addressed in the video. Possible answers for the problem set will be provided at the end of the session materials. It should be emphasized that many questions have a variety of answers – answers that vary depending on the understandings of the person answering the question. The intent is not to give you “right answers,” but to allow you to compare yours with more advanced learners in physical science.

Ongoing Concept Mapping*
Within each session, several fundamental concepts are explored. Beginning with Session 2, the creation of a concept map will provide you with an opportunity to reflect on your evolving understandings of these concepts and their connections to one another, as well as to see how the content in each session relates to that of other sessions. A more detailed explanation of concept mapping is included in Session 2.

Guided Journal Entry
As you proceed through this course, one way of building and connecting understandings is to reflect upon your learning as you go. In each session, one or more questions will be suggested to guide a journal entry. At the end of the course, these entries should help you see how your ideas have progressed.

Textbook Reading Suggestions
We strongly recommend that you acquire a college-level physics text to refer to in this course. Reading topics will be listed in each session, and can be located in most textbooks in the Table of Contents or Index.
Preparing for the Next Session*

This section will get you thinking about upcoming topics and remind you to bring materials needed for the next session’s activities.

Individual Workshop Descriptions

Workshop 1: What Is Matter? Properties and Classification of Matter
Matter is all around us — it’s what we and everything else are made of. Yet how do we define matter? What are the properties of matter that set it apart from something that is definitely not matter, such as light? In this session, participants build a working definition of matter, distinguish among the different forms it can take, investigate the difference between “essential” and “accidental” properties of matter, and look at the role of classification in science. Go to this unit.

Workshop 2: The Particle Nature of Matter – Solids, Liquids, and Gases
What simple idea links together all of chemistry and physics? How can a close study of the macroscopic differences among solids, liquids, and gases support a microscopic model of tiny, discrete, and constantly moving particles? In this session, participants learn how the “particle model” can be turned into a powerful tool for generating predictions about the behavior of matter under a wide range of conditions. Go to this unit.

Workshop 3: Physical Changes and Conservation of Matter
What happens when sugar is dissolved in a glass of water or when a pot of water on the stove boils away? Do things ever really “disappear?” In everyday life, observations that things “disappear” or “appear” seem to contradict one of the fundamental laws of nature: matter can be neither created nor destroyed. In this session, participants learn how the principles of the particle model are consistent with conservation of matter. Go to this unit.

Workshop 4: Chemical Changes and Conservation of Matter
How can the particle model account for what happens when two clear liquids are mixed together and they produce a milky-white solid? What happens when iron rusts? Where do the elements come from? In this session, participants extend the particle model by looking inside the particles, learn about some early chemical pioneers, and in the process discover how the law of conservation of matter applies even at the scale of atoms and molecules. Go to this unit.

Workshop 5: Density and Pressure
What makes a block of wood rise to the surface of a bucket of water? Why do your ears pop when you swim deep underwater? In this session, participants examine density, an essential property of matter. They also look at how particles of matter are in constant motion, which leads to a deeper understanding of fluid pressure. Lastly, the concepts of pressure and density are investigated to explain the macroscopic phenomenon of rising and sinking. Go to this unit.

Workshop 6: Rising and Sinking
Why does a hot air balloon rise into the sky? Why does ice rise in water, when a lump of solid wax will sink in a jar full of molten wax? In this session, participants generalize the model that has been developed about what rises and what sinks, using the idea of balance of forces. Go to this unit.

Workshop 7: Heat and Temperature
What makes the liquid in a thermometer rise or fall in response to temperature? Which contains more heat — a boiling teakettle on the stove or a swimming pool of lukewarm water? In this session, participants focus on the difference between heat and temperature, and examine how both are defined in terms of particles. The particle model is then used to explain a number of everyday phenomena, from why things expand when they are heated to the role that temperature plays in changes of state. Go to this unit.

Workshop 8: Extending the Particle Model of Matter
In this session, participants extend their understanding of the particle model to explain additional macroscopic phenomena, including the electrical properties of matter. Participants review the progression of ideas covered in the course and anticipate future developments in the understanding of matter. Go to this unit.

About the Contributors

Course Developers

Noah Finkelstein, Ph.D.
Dr. Noah Finkelstein received a doctorate in applied physics from Princeton in 1998. Following graduate school, with the support of a National Science Foundation fellowship, Dr. Finkelstein studied student learning in physics jointly at the University of California at San Diego and at the University of California Berkeley. Over the past six years, he has taught extensively in physics at the undergraduate and graduate levels and in undergraduate, pre-service, and in-service teacher education. He has also taught physical science at the high school level and in informal K-12 programs such as museums and clubs.  His research examines student learning in context, the factors that shape and are shaped by student learning, and how institutional structures support or inhibit such learning. Dr. Finkelstein is currently a part of the development of a graduate program and research group in physics education at the University of Colorado.

Jamie Bell, Ed. M.
Jamie Bell received an Ed. M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996. He was the project manager for physics exhibit development at the Exploratorium in San Francisco from 1998 to 2002. Prior to that, he co-directed the High School Explainer program there for eight years. Mr. Bell has been a consultant and trainer for museums and science centers committed to the public understanding of science, both nationally and internationally.

Mark Hartman, MS
Mark Hartman is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, and he has a B.S. in Physics from Case Western Reserve University. His current research involves observational cosmology, but he has also worked in industry as an optical engineer and freelance science writer. He is also working with the National Science Foundation GK12 program to bring science graduate students into partnerships with public school science programs. 

Onscreen Guides

Sallie Baliunas, Ph.D.
Dr.Sallie Baliunas is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She served as Deputy Director and Director of Science Programs at Mount Wilson Observatory from 1991 to 2002. She has been a contributing editor to the World Climate Report and a receiving editor for New Astronomy and New Astronomy Reviews. Her awards include the Newton-Lacy-Pierce Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the Petr Beckmann Award for Scientific Freedom, and the Bok Prize from Harvard University. In 1991 Discovermagazine profiled her as one of America’s outstanding women scientists. From 1997 to 2000, she was science advisor for the science-fiction television series, “Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict.” She received her A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Astrophysics from Harvard University. Her studies include the Sun’s changes and their influence on life and the environment of Earth, exoplanets, and sunlike stars.

Robin Moriarity
Robin Moriarty has worked in the Boston area as a classroom teacher in both public and private settings for 14 years. During that time, she has taught kindergarten, first, second, third, and fifth grades. Ms. Moriarty joined the Educational Development Center (EDC) as a research associate in June 1999 to work on the Tool Kit for Early Childhood Science Education. Her work involves developing, piloting, revising, and field-testing three curriculum guides in pre-school science to be published by Redleaf Press, along with professional development materials and videos. In addition, Ms. Moriarty has co-taught four courses for credit sponsored by the Connecticut State Department of Education and developed by the Center for Children & Families at EDC called “Science Explorations: Facilitating Science Inquiry with Young Children” and “Constructing a Cognitively Challenging Curriculum.”

Curriculum Developer

Tina Grotzer, Ed.D, The Understandings of Consequence Project, Project Zero
Dr. Tina Grotzer is a research associate at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on topics at the intersection of cognition, development, and educational practice, such as the learnability of intelligence and how children develop causal models for complex science concepts. She works with students and teachers in several school systems on an ongoing basis, linking theory and practice such that they inform one another. She has studied cognitive development both as a teacher and as a researcher. Dr. Grotzer is co-principal investigator on the Understandings of Consequence Project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project identifies ways in which student explanations of scientific concepts have different forms of causality at the core than those of scientists. She and her colleagues have developed a set of curriculum modules designed to teach the causal forms implicit in the scientific explanations. She received her Ed.D. in 1993 and Ed.M. in 1985 from Harvard University and her A.B. in developmental psychology from Vassar College in 1981.

Science Historians

Alberto Martinez, Ph.D.
Dr. Alberto Martinez received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and is currently the Dibner Library Resident Scholar, Smithsonian Institution. He was an organizer for the Seminar on the Investigation of Difficult Things in 1999 to 2000 and for the Seminar on Natural Philosophy in 1996, both at the University of Minnesota, and has been a participant in the Seven Pines Symposium for History and Philosophy of Physics in 1997 and 1999. At the Dibner Institute, Dr. Martinez will prepare a book on the history of kinematics, the modern science of motion. He is currently a fellow in the History Department at Boston University and will be lecturing at California Institute of Technology beginning in the fall of 2005.

Mi Gyung Kim, Ph. D.
Dr. Kim is associate professor of history at North Carolina State University. She has been working on chemical affinity for the past two decades. Her research trajectory includes the development of physical chemistry in Germany and of organic chemistry in France during the nineteenth century. Her recent book, Affinity, That Elusive Dream: A Genealogy of the Chemical Revolution(MIT Press, 2003), deals with the institutionalization of theoretical chemistry in eighteenth-century France that led to the Chemical Revolution. She is currently working on a cultural history of ballooning in pre-revolutionary France.

Scientists: Session 1

Robert S. Granetz, Ph. D.
Dr. Granetz is a principal research scientist on the Alcator C-Mod project, coordinator of the diagnostic neutral beam (DNB) collaboration, and MHD program leader. He has concentrated on the study of MHD instabilities and disruptions in tokamaks and has made important contributions to the understanding of current-rise instabilities, the sawtooth instability, and pellet injection. Dr. Granetz has also taught graduate student courses in plasma physics and fusion for the MIT Department of Nuclear Engineering.  In 1985 Dr. Granetz was invited to be a visiting scientist at the JET Project in Europe, and he concentrated on the analysis of data from their soft x-ray arrays.  He has helped pioneer the use of x-ray tomographic imaging for studying the physics of MHD instabilities and plasma equilibria, particularly with respect to the fast sawtooth crash.  Dr. Granetz returned from JET in 1987 to take on his present responsibilities for the Alcator C-MOD project. One of Dr. Granetz’s principal areas of research on C-Mod has been the study of disruptions, particularly halo currents and disruption mitigation. He developed instrumentation which clearly showed the magnitude and toroidally-asymmetric nature of halo currents, and compiled a large database that formed the bulk of the ITER disruption design constraints.

Session 2

Robert A. Childs
Robert Childs is a Vacuum Engineer and Technical Supervisor of the Alcator Vacuum Lab at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  After completing his term of service in the U.S. Air Force, he began his 33 year career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969 as an electronic technician in the Instrumentation Lab (Draper Lab). He quickly transferred to the Center for Space Research (CSR) the following year to begin work on the Lunar Surface Experiment that was one of the successful experiments of the Apollo 17 Mission, the last manned Moon mission. With the successful completion of the Apollo Program at MIT, Bob became involved in the construction of the first of three major Tokamak Fusion Reactor Experiments that would last from 1971 to the present Alcator C-MOD. The Alcator program has been and is today the leader in producing low Z effective plasmas necessary for fusion research, which is in great part due to the high quality of the vacuum system. Alcator C-MOD continues in this lead as one of only two major fusion projects in operation in the U.S. funded by the Department of Energy. Bob was the third recipient of the George T. Hanyo Award from The AVS Science and Technology Society in 1999. He is presently serving as the President of the Society for 2004.

Session 3

Ark W. Pang
Ark W. Pang is Vice President for Business Development for Ionics, Incorporated, a 56-year old water and wastewater services company with corporate headquarters located in Watertown, Massachusetts. Ark has over 30 years of experience in the treatment of water and wastewater, and for the past 25 years has been dedicated to the application of membrane separation technologies for desalination and water reclamation. He has a degree in Chemical Engineering and has held various senior product and market development positions for DuPont Chemical Company, Permutit USA, and, for the past 20 years, with Ionics.

In his current role for Ionics his team is leading the worldwide development of major Build-Own-and-Operate long-term water supply opportunities.   His team, with a Kuwaiti partner, was successful in obtaining project financing for the world’s largest advanced membrane wastewater reclamation project in Kuwait. This 400,000 cubic meters per day facility will be commissioned at the end of 2004.  He is currently leading the development of a 200,000 cubic meters per day seawater desalination project for the newly formed Algerian project company, Hamma Water Desalination SpA, on whose Board of Directors he serves.

Peter Schuerch
For the past 17 years Peter Schuerch has been the superintendent of MacMahan Island, ME. One of his duties is to provide the island community with an adequate supply of potable water. Since island wells were no longer able to meet increased demands, it was decided to produce fresh water from the sea. Four years ago, Schuerch installed two reverse osmosis machines. These units are capable of producing 8,000 gallons per day. It is believed that MacMahan Island was the first island community in New England to produce its fresh water by this method.

Session 4

Robert Kirshner
Robert Kirshner earned his Ph.D. in astronomy from California Institute of Technology. After working on exploding stars at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, and teaching for nine years at the University of Michigan, Kirshner was called to the Harvard Astronomy Department in 1985. He is now Clowes Professor of Science.

Dr. Kirshner‘s scientific work concentrates on using supernova explosions to measure the expansion of the universe. This has led to the discovery of the acceleration of cosmic expansion, now attributed to a strange “dark energy” that pervades the observable universe. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and elected President of the American Astronomical Society in 2003. His popular-level book, The Extravagant Universe–Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos came out in fall 2002. Each spring, Kirshner teaches Science A-35, “Matter in the Universe,” a core curriculum course for Harvard undergraduates.

Session 5

Steve Bailey
Steve Bailey is the Curator of Fishes at the New England Aquarium. He has been a key staff person there for over twenty years. Recently, Steve was one of two principal investigators for a major new exhibit on sea jellies that was funded by the National Science Foundation. Called “Amazing Jellies,” the multi-million dollar exhibit explores the increasing impact of sea jellies on coastal environments. Steve was also the staff ichthyologist for two National Geographic expeditions in search of the world’s most pristine coral reef systems in the exceptionally remote Phoenix Islands of the South Pacific. There, he helped identify some previously unknown species of coral fish. Steve did graduate work at Northeastern University and received a B.S. in zoology from Wilkes University.

Session 6

Halsey C. Herreshoff
Halsey C. Herreshoff of Bristol, Rhode Island. is a naval architect and marine engineer, builder of yachts, member of the Bristol Town Council, and President of the Herreshoff Marine Museum and of America’s Cup Hall of Fame. Educated at Webb Institute of Naval Architecture with a Master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Herreshoff enjoys a distinguished career in his field. More than 10.000 vessels have been built to his designs, and he has provided engineering consultation to government, industry, and private clients.

A noted sailor, Halsey Herreshoff has skippered his own racing and cruising boats in many locations, and has participated in important yacht races around the world.  He was a member of the crew of Columbia, the 1958 America’s Cup Defender, and was navigator in three America’s Cup defenses: Courageous in 1974, Freedom in 1980; and Liberty in 1983.

Session 7

William Babcock
William Babcock is a senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Bill is a native of southeast Massachusetts. He earned a B.S. in Meteorology from the University of Lowell, MA, in 1981. Bill also did graduate work at the Atmospheric Science program of Oregon State University in 1984 and 1985.

Bill worked for a small private weather forecast service in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region during the early 1980s. During that time he was heard on a dozen radio stations around New England and New York.  Bill was hired by the National Weather Service in 1987, and has served at offices in Williamsport, PA, and Ann Arbor, MI, before coming home to southern New England in 1995.

In addition to producing weather forecasts and warnings for southern New England, Bill oversees the region’s severe weather spotter program, as well as the local aviation forecast program. Bill also visits schools and community groups to talk about weather and weather safety.

Session 8

Melissa Franklin
Dr. Franklin is Professor of Physics at Harvard University. She is an experimental particle physicist who is working on studies of proton/anti-proton collision produced by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory with the Collider Detector Facility, which she helped to build. She works in a collaboration of over 600 international physicists who discovered the top quark, and continue to study particle interactions and symmetries at the highest energies now available worldwide.

Professor Franklin, a Canadian, received her B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and her Doctorate from Stanford University. She has worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, as assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Champagne/Urbana, and as a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard, before joining the Harvard faculty.

Wolfgang Ketterle
Dr. Ketterle is a principal investigator in the Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics group in the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT. He is one of the three 2001 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr. Ketterle’s research activitiesfocus on ultracold neutral atoms at high densities. Such systems offer exciting new possibilities: When the atoms’ De Broglie wavelength is comparable to atomic dimensions (the range of the interaction potential), they exhibit novel collisional properties. For interatomic separations approaching the wavelength of light, one expects novel features in light scattering and spectroscopy. Of particular interest are quantum statistical effects such as spin waves and Bose-Einstein condensation. The latter occurs when the De Broglie wavelength becomes comparable to the interatomic spacing.

In order to obtain dense samples of ultracold atoms, Dr. Ketterle’s group uses a variety of techniques: slow atomic beams, laser cooling, spontaneous light force traps, magnetic traps, and evaporative cooling. The development of novel trapping and cooling schemes is a major part of his research activities. The recent observation of Bose-Einstein condensation allows him to study ultracold matter in a completely new regime. A Bose condensate is a coherent cloud of atoms with a a macroscopic population of the ground state of a trap.

Dr. Ketterle’s short-term goal is to study and understand the properties of a Bose condensate. In the long term, his group plans to use coherent atoms for precision measurements and atom optics.

Barry Kluger-Bell
Barry Kluger-Bell is Assistant Director for Science at the Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry in San Francisco. He holds an A.B. in Physics and Mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Colorado. Dr. Kluger-Bell has worked as a research physicist, college level physics teacher, science teacher-educator, and as director of the Bay Area Science Project. At the Exploratorium, he has served as science resource teacher, developed curriculum materials, worked with elementary teachers and children in their classrooms, developed and led inquiry education workshops for teachers, university graduate students, and faculty, and professional developers. He is author of The Exploratorium Guide to Scale and Structure. He has served as an advisor for video projects by WGBH, Boston and Annenberg Media in Washington.

Joseph V. Minervini
Joseph Minervini is Division Head for Technology and Engineering in the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT.  He also holds an academic appointment as Senior Research Engineer in the Nuclear Engineering Department where he teaches a course and supervises graduate student research. His present duties include spokesperson for the U.S. Magnetics Program organized under the Virtual Laboratory for Technology of the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Science (OFES).

Dr. Minervini has played a leading role in the field of large-scale applications of superconductors for more than 20 years.  His work has spanned the range from laboratory research to management of engineering groups and large-scale projects pursuing advanced superconducting and energy technology goals.  His research interests include applied superconductivity, electromagnetics, cryogenic heat transfer, supercritical helium fluid dynamics, and low temperature measurements.  He has worked on magnet systems covering nearly every major application of large-scale superconductivity including fusion energy, magnetic levitation, energy storage, power generation, magnetic separation, and high energy physics, as well as medical applications.

Christine Ortiz
Professor Ortiz is an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. She received a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1992 and completed M.S. and Ph.D. work at Cornell University. Upon graduation from Cornell, Prof. Ortiz accepted a NSF-NATO Post-doctoral Research Fellowship in Science and Engineering that she carried out between 1997 to 1999 in the Department of Polymer Chemistry in the University of Groningen (Netherlands).

In 1999, Prof. Ortiz joined the faculty of MIT where she developed a research program that focuses on the ultrastructure and nanomechanics of biological, biomedical, and biomimetic materials, with the primary goal being to quantify and understand the fundamental nanoscale structure-property relationships responsible for material function and dysfunction. Her research is divided into three main thrust areas including 1) soft and hard biological tissues: cartilage, bone, and natural exoskeletons, 2) molecular origins of biocompatibility and bioactivity of biomedical material surfarces, and 3) synthetic biomimetic macromolecular architectures with noncovalent intramolecular interactions. In addition, she runs an organic polymer synthesis laboratory and adjacent tissue/cell culture facility.

Since coming to MIT, she has won a NSF-PECASE award given by President George W. Bush at the White House, designed and taught a popular new undergraduate course entitled, “Nanomechanics of Materials and Biomaterials,” and given 70 invited lectures (including 20 international lectures in ten countries).

Support Materials

The support materials for Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science are available here for download as PDF files. You’ll need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the files. Acrobat Reader is available free for download from adobe.

Course Guide:

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2004.
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