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FHS students give tour of UT lab

Three Farragut High School students recently had the opportunity to share their scientific work with Kuangdi Xu, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and president of the China-U.S. People’s Friendship Association.

Seniors Emma Stockdale, Michael McCormick and Kyle Peterson, through The University of Tennessee Pre-Collegiate Research Scholars Program, have been working on an experiment in the lab of Dr. Ward Plummer, UT physics professor and scientist in the Solid State Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory..

Emma said, “We’re basically determining the atomic structure of graphine on nickel crystal through low energy electron diffraction.”

Kristin Baksa, chemistry teacher at FHS, said, “Dr. Plummer takes a lot of interest in his students. He really considers mentoring an important part of his job. When he took on Kyle, Michael and Emma, he just digs in. He’s real proud of them and he wanted the folks from the Chinese Academies to meet with them. He wanted to share what we’re doing with high school students.”

Plummer asked Emma, Michael and Kyle to be available when Xu and others toured the lab.

“It was a really great experience to see all these really great scientists all in one place. They were all really nice, and you could tell they were all really intelligent,” Emma said. “We explained a little bit about our experiment, and Dr. Plummer explained about what all they are doing in the lab and a little bit about ours also. We gave a tour of Dr. Plummer’s lab area.”

The experiment, Emma said, was Plummer’s idea.

“We got called in the summer. They started this program through our high school last year, and Dr. Plummer was looking for students for the experiment. Baksa, our chemistry teacher, called us up and asked us if we wanted to do it, that it would be a really great experience. We came in knowing we would be doing an experiment, but we didn’t know what. They clued us in on what we needed to know,” she added.

“Kyle, Michael and I have been working in the lab since June. We started out with some lectures, trying to get the basics because it was our first time doing physics. We just started taking physics this semester. Then we went to the lab. It’s really different from class, being able to apply it in a real lab. We’ve been working a lot, getting experience working in a real lab.”

Baksa said the three students were chosen based on several criteria.

“We pick our students for the program based on – a lot of it is their enthusiasm for science, their responsibility, their initiative and their academic ability. Their ability to work independently is important too, obviously,” she added.

The students leave FHS for UT during fourth-block period. Each received credit from both FHS and UT.

“As a result of [Plummer’s] interest and enthusiasm, we’ve started a series of scientific lectures at Farragut High School,” Baksa said. “He was the first one. We had over 100 people there who came to listen to him. We’re going to do it again with another professor from U-T [Thursday, Jan. 31]. We hope to get some other speakers.”

The PRSP program with UT is not the only experience FHS students are getting outside of the classroom.

“We also have students working at O-R-N-L and Knoxville Zoo,” Baksa said. The school also has other students at UT who are not working with Plummer.

These approximately 20 students will present their work from 7 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 6, at FHS.


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