Research Experience for Teachers

The application period for Summer 2021 is now closed. Please check back in early 2022 for information about the Summer 2022 program.

Each summer, the RTNN welcomes middle and high school teachers as well as community college educators to participate in its summer RET program: Atomic Scale Design and Engineering.

Up to eleven teachers will be selected to participate in research in nanotechnology labs at NC State, Duke, and UNC-Chapel Hill or in an industry lab. Participants will work in small teams to conduct research in atomic scale design and engineering. Teachers will also gain hands-on experience in the cutting edge techniques and tools used in nanoscale science and engineering within RTNN facilities. All participants will conduct a research study; example projects are listed below. Teachers will also spend time designing curricular materials to use in their classroom and will share these teaching materials during the program and after they return to their home institution. Participants will have weekly seminars focused on nanotechnology from RTNN faculty and industry leaders. Join us for an interesting summer learning about advances in research, getting involved in your own study, and thinking about new ways to teach science and engineering. Please visit RTNN’s Lesson Plan page to see examples of lesson plans created by previous participants in the program.

The program lasts for 5 weeks (June 14 – July 16, 2021) with follow up during the academic year. Teachers will receive a $5,000 stipend for their work as an RET with additional funding available for curricular materials and travel for lesson plan/curriculum dissemination. The program is for US citizens only and teachers must participate for the entire period of the program.  Participants are required to attend all daily and weekly meetings, seminars, field trips, and workshops.

Questions?  Please Contact: Dr. Maude Cuchiara ( or Dr. Gail Jones (

RET Projects

Dr. Ericka Ford Lab (NC State):

Characterization of Piezoelectric Nanofibers

Piezoelectric materials generate voltage under applied stresses; such as under compression and tension. In this work, piezoelectric nanofibers are manufactured by the electrospinning technique to make flexible sensors, whose electrical resistivity decreases upon the application of stress. Nanofibers spun from traditional textile polymers are insulating; however, we will spin fibers from engineering plastics that are inherently piezoelectric. Further, we will incorporate piezoelectric nanotubes, having diameters on the order of several nanometers, as nanoscale fillers that are capable of enhancing the voltage readings when stress is applied.  

Teachers involved in this project will learned about

  1. Nanoscale manufacturing of nanofibers
  2. Incorporation of nanomaterials into spun nanofibers
  3. Techniques to test the piezoelectric behavior of nanofibers

Modifying Nanoscale Surfaces to Affect Bacterial Adhesions

Overtime bacteria can form resistance to antimicrobial agents. When this happens, bacteria and other forms of infection can increase. If scientists can deter bacterial adhesion onto surfaces, then we can prevent a substantial number of infections upon hospitalization and in public facilities. The goal of this study is to investigate the role of surface chemistry (that is the chemistry of any surface at the atomic scale) on their innate attraction or repulsion of microbial organisms. Changes in surface chemistry is affected by the use of coatings or techniques to roughen surfaces at the nanoscale. Because fabrics are integral to our everyday lives, we will perform such testing on fabrics, namely nonwoven textiles, which are heavily used for personal care and hygiene.

Teachers involved in this project will learn about

  1. Manufacturing of micron to submicron-scale fibers by the technique for meltblown nonwovens
  2. Approaches to modify the surface chemistry of nanofibers
  3. Techniques to characterize the adhesion of microbial organisms on a fabric

Dr. Philip Bradford (NC State): Patterning of Carbon Nanotube Arrays

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) grown on solid substrates from catalysts deposited from the vapor phase have not previously been patterned. The ability to pattern CNTs on solid substrates is useful for making hierarchical structures for use in composites and sensors. The challenge in patterning CNTs, where the catalyst is deposited from the vapor phase, is in defining areas where the deposited catalyst will not nucleate CNTs. In this project, the growth substrate will first be patterned and coated with solid materials that will act as CNT nucleation inhibitors. It is expected that thin metal coatings will disrupt the nucleation of CNTs through changing the surface energy and/or through dissolution of the catalyst particle into the metal layers.

Teacher and or Community College Faculty Component: This research project is designed to give teachers hands-on experience in nanofabrication methods of patterning, thin film depositions of metals, and chemical vapor deposition growth of carbon nanotubes. Analysis of the final structures through SEM, AFM, and TEM is expected.

Dr. Stefan Zauscher (Duke): Development of microfluidic devices for blood analysis

Quantification of biomacromolecular complexes (lipoproteins, protein/carbohydrates, enzyme/substrate complexes) in blood plasma is challenging. Current techniques rely on time-consuming separation strategies, typically centrifugation, to separate plasma from whole blood, followed by additional separation and/or detection, and require relatively large amounts (~0.5-10 ml) of blood. The Zauscher lab has recently developed an innovative technology based on quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) sensors that has the potential to quickly quantify the concentration of biomacromolecules in plasma while requiring only small amounts (< 50 ┬Ál) of blood. In this technology, microfluidic channels are bonded to the surface of a QCM sensor, which allows for i) on-chip blood/plasma separation (blood cells cannot enter the microchannels), ii) increased mass detection sensitivity in liquids (mass is more rigidly coupled to sensor surface), and iii) use of sub-microliter samples. Current research activities are aimed at sensor fabrication and proof-of-concept demonstration of protein capture from blood plasma.

Teacher and/or Community College Faculty Component: Depending on interest and background of the participant, we propose two research projects. Project one is focused on the design of the microfluidic channels and device fabrication. This project will give participants hands-on experience in optimizing the design of the fluidic channels to achieve i) more uniform channel filling and ii) improved on-chip blood/plasma separation. Participants will be able to design, fabricate, and test different microfluidic channel geometries, and will be trained in using photolithographic processes. Characterization of the devices will be accomplished by fluorescence microscopy and image analysis. This project can easily be continued beyond the summer period at Duke University because participants, at their home institutions, can further design channel geometries which then can be fabricated at Duke and tested. Project two is focused on establishing the proof-of-concept for a fast platelet factor 4 (PF4)/heparin complex immunoassay, amenable for detection with the microfluidic QCM. Detection of this complex is of great clinical interest, because the formation of stable PF4/heparin complexes in plasma can trigger heparin induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), a life-threatening allergic response. In this project, participants will develop and test a mass-enhanced detection assay in which gold nanoparticles (GNPs) will be functionalized with biotinylated KKO capture antibodies (targeted to the PF4/heparin complex) and then added with plasma to a PF4-functionalized QCM crystal surface. Specifically, participants will establish the concentration of KKO-antibody conjugated NPs at which the detection sensitivity, for a given surface functionalization density, will be maximal. Participants will be trained in state-of-the-art surface functionalization techniques and exposed to surface characterization techniques including AFM, QCM, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

Dr. Ramon Collazo (NC State): Support in the development and fabrication of UV light emitting diodes for disinfection applications or visible diode lasers for photonic integrated circuits. The project will take advantage of our III-nitrides semiconductor foundry with growth and device fabrication facilities. The teachers will have the opportunity to participate in semiconductor growth procedures, materials characterization at the atomic level, and electronic device characterization. This will help the teachers visualize how modern electronic devices, especially light emitting diodes, are fabricated.