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High School Student's Research Experience at NDSU Leads to Publication in Major Scientific Journal

January 12, 2012, Fargo, N.D. – When 16-year-old Anna Bernhardt of New Salem, N.D., filled out papers to attend North Dakota Governor’s School, she didn’t know it would jumpstart her journey to become a young scientist in a major way, leading to a significant research discovery in nanotechnology.

Anna attended an intensive six-week program on the North Dakota State University campus in Fargo last summer. The Governor’s School program provides selected academically-driven high school sophomores and juniors in the state the opportunity to learn about science, mathematics, English, business, and performing or visual arts at the university level.

Portrait of Dr. Erik HobbieThe science portion of the program pairs students with a mentor scientist and a research group to further develop laboratory skills. Anna wrote “physics” as her lab preference. That led to the opportunity to work with Dr. Erik Hobbie and his research team in a lab in NDSU’s Research and Technology Park.

“I had never worked in this type of setting before and didn't really know what to expect on my first day,” said Anna. “The biggest benefit of working in the lab was getting a taste of the true research experience. Without North Dakota Governor’s School, I would never have been able to have this experience, and surely wouldn't be so certain that I would like to do more research in the future. Also, it was wonderful to meet and work with the people in my lab.”

While working in the NDSU lab, Anna prepared single-wall carbon nanotube samples and participated in testing of the samples. “The experience of working in a research setting has helped me to decide that I would love to do more research in the future,” said the young scientist.

The daughter of Marlys and Leon Morgenstern, Anna has grown up on a farming and cattle operation near New Salem, N.D. There are 28 students in her class at New Salem-Almont High School. Anna said while farming operations and single wall carbon nanotubes may not be directly related, “the work ethic and having a persistent attitude definitely applied to my experience in the lab.” When she graduates from high school, Anna currently plans to major in physics.

“Anna is a very hard working and focused young woman,” said Dr. Erik Hobbie. He notes that participating in such advanced research is an unusual opportunity, not typically available to teenagers. “I would say it is highly unusual, but it was a great opportunity for everyone involved, and as a young student interested in science and engineering, it gives her a great jump on her career.”

Photo of J. Harris and Anna Barhardt working in the labThe first day in the lab was eye opening. “Before my first day, I had absolutely zero knowledge regarding nanotubes. My first day was mostly a crash course on the research taking place, and then an assignment to read up more on what I would be working with,” said Anna. “Nothing in my high school setting had brought me close to what I was dealing with."

A few things were unexpected. “The most interesting thing I learned was probably how much time and thought is put into each experiment done, and how much time is spent waiting,” said Anna. “I quickly learned that research involves much waiting around. For instance, I spent many hours waiting for acetone puddles to dry.”

Anna explains some of her highly technical work in the lab, using examples. “Single wall carbon nanotubes are basically a hexagonal lattice structure of carbon, rolled up into a tube. This is not how they are actually made, but it is a good way to envision their structure,” said Anna. There are several different types of carbon, including graphite and graphene. “Graphite is pencil lead, and graphene is a two-dimensional hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms. A piece of graphite is put into the middle of a vacuum chamber and then a laser beam is focused on it. The pulsed laser beam hits it with high intensity and gives it so much energy at the contact point that it causes carbon atoms to fly off of the graphite and the particles condense on the walls of the chamber. As these particles condense, they build up single-wall carbon nanotubes one layer at a time.”

Anna notes that the driving force behind the research she did is to replace expensive materials that are essential to today’s electronics. “Indium tin oxide (ITO) is a transparent and highly conductive film used in phone, computer, and television screens. ITO is very rare and therefore, extremely expensive. Since it is in such high demand, the resources are being depleted and are expected to be gone in fifteen years.”  Anna’s exacting work measured the transparency of the films in the visible spectrum at different film thicknesses for each electronic type.

The research done by Dr. Hobbie’s team, including Anna, could one day impact flexible electronic devices such as solar cells and wearable sensors. In addition to Anna, the research team includes NDSU graduate student John M. Harris; postdoctoral researcher Ganjigunte R. Swathi Iyer; and researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Dr. Hobbie and grad student John Harris considered Anna’s contribution to the research substantial enough to include her as a co-author of an article about their research results, now published in a major scientific journal. “I was absolutely thrilled!” said Anna.

Results from the NDSU research team that included Anna, appear in “Electronic Durability of Flexible Transparent Films from Type-Specific Single-Wall Carbon Nanotubes,” published in ACS Nano, a major scientific journal of the American Chemical Society.

Anna said her experience in Governor’s School made the opportunity possible.

Another North Dakota Governor’s School graduate attests to the difference the experience made in her career.  Dr. Victoria Johnston Gelling, originally from Forest River, N.D., is now an associate professor in the Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials at NDSU. She located 30 of the 40 students in her original Governor’s School class of 1991, finding that 14 of the 30 attained doctorate, medical doctor, master’s or doctor of chiropractic degrees, and 15 of the 30 students received bachelor’s degrees. More than half of the Governor’s School students from 1991 that Dr. Gelling located from her class, stayed in North Dakota or Minnesota.

About the North Dakota’s Governor’s School
Established in 1990, the North Dakota Governor’s School is an intensive six-week summer residential program in science, mathematics, English, business, and performing or visual arts, for qualified North Dakota high school sophomores or juniors. Located on the campus of North Dakota State University, Fargo, the science portion of the program pairs students with a mentor scientist and a research group to further develop laboratory skills and quantitative data techniques. The state of North Dakota funds the program, available at no cost to qualified North Dakota students selected to participate.

About NDSU’s Materials and Nanotechnology Graduate Program
Dr. Erik Hobbie is a professor in the Department of Physics and in the Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials at NDSU. He also serves as director of NDSU’s Materials and Nanotechnology graduate program that offers students a unique opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary research. Hobbie previously served as a senior scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Minnesota.

About North Dakota State University
North Dakota State University, Fargo, is notably listed among the nation’s top 108 public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s elite category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” As a student-focused, land grant, research institution with more than 14,000 students, NDSU is listed in the top 40 research universities in the U.S. without a medical school, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation. At the 55-acre NDSU Research & Technology Park, faculty, staff and students work with private sector researchers on leading-edge projects.

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Last Updated: Monday, January 26, 2015 11:13:11 AM
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