Two National Science Foundation Grants Awarded to Manhattan College Faculty

The National Science Foundation has awarded Manhattan College faculty two grants to fund particle physics research and to launch an Engineering Scholars Training and Retention Center at the college. Rostislav Konoplich, Ph.D. and professor of physics will use the funds to conduct further research on the Higgs boson particle, while Sister Mary Ann Jacobs, Ed.D., assistant professor of education and Zahra Shahbazi, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will co-lead the new engineering education center.

These faculty spoke to The Quadrangle about the grant application process, how they will use the funds and how students will be engaged in these new endeavors.

Q&A With Rostislav Konoplich, Ph.D., Professor of Physics

The Quadrangle, Q: Why did you apply for this grant?

Konoplich, RK: I applied for a grant because this is the standard way to do research. We have to support students, to have possibilities to travel to conferences and meetings, to work in research centers around the world, to buy equipment, and so on.

Q: What was the application process like?

RK: The application process was quite smooth I just prepared an application and submitted it to NSF. NSF instructions are very clear and it’s easy to follow them. But I’d like to note that I got a lot of help in a form of advices and examples from High energy physics group of NYU.

Q: What specifically will this new grant help cover in terms of your research?

RK: My research is related with Higgs boson physics at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. This is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. The LHC consists of a 27 kilometer ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way. Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide.

In 2012, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations discovered a new particle at the LHC. In order to prove that the newly discovered particle is the Higgs boson responsible for the mechanism of the electroweak symmetry breaking and the mass generation of elementary particles, its quantum numbers should be determined and couplings to other particles and self-couplings measured.

Q: How will this research involve students? What are your visions for student involvement?

RK: In order to involve undergraduate students in research, I plan to invite our students to contribute to the LHC-related projects.This project will expose promising undergraduate students to the highest level research. They will study basics of elementary particle physics and Higgs physics […].

Our undergraduate students will participate in research during academic year and during the summer. The summer research will be performed at Manhattan College and/or at CERN. This will provide research university-like opportunities for Manhattan College students. It will have direct benefit for undergraduate students to participate in cutting-edge research, learn the technique of research and gain access to state of computer and ATLAS detector facilities at CERN. For students, the experience of attending CERN and working on CERN project would be an incredibly motivating factor in their lives.

Q: Why should students, faculty and alumni get excited about this project?

RK: People are curious, especially scientists.

If you google ‘Higgs’ you will get about 15 million entries. Many articles about Higgs boson discovery were published and there were multiple discussions on TV. This shows the great interest even in general public to this discovery. The Higgs boson is the quantum of the Higgs field, which is responsible for the origin of mass in the universe and it defines the evolution of the universe. In particular, the knowledge of mass of the Higgs boson allows us to predict the fate of the universe.

Q&A With Sister Mary Ann Jacobs, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Education

The Quadrangle, Q: What prompted you to get involved in this new center and apply for the grant?

Sister Mary Ann Jacobs, MAJ: The recently released science standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, include all aspects of STEM education: science, technology, engineering and math. Currently our teachers and teacher candidates have minimal training in engineering principles. NYS does not have a certification program for engineering educators. So science teachers do not have the knowledge and skill base needed for introducing engineering principles.

Engineers do not have background in teaching. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to help educators learn about engineering principles and help engineers acquire some teaching skills.

Q: What was the process like?

MAJ: Writing a grant is similar to developing research. There are required components that must be a part of the grant proposal. There are two major parts – the intellectual merit of the grant, how the proposed grant will advance knowledge, and the broader impact, how the grant will benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific and desirable societal outcomes, the grant can have. Dr. Shahbazi and I both share in a passion for enhancing education and engineering so we worked together to propose this two year program that could benefit both education and engineering students at Manhattan. We worked on the grant proposal for about one year. We shared our ideas with other professors who willingly made suggestions for improving and contributing to our ideas.

Q: What will this new center offer? What details can you provide at this time?

MAJ: This is the […] abstract for the grant. This will give you a good idea of what the grant is about.

[…]This project will investigate ways to promote and support engineering education for engineers who desire to teach 6-12 grades, future STEM teachers, current certified math and science teachers, and students in middle and high schools especially from underrepresented groups. Currently the “E” (engineering) in STEM education is nearly non-existent. Teachers are most often certified to teach math, science, or technology, but rarely have a background understanding of engineering principles. Engineers, on the other hand, have expertise in engineering principles, but lack the knowledge and skills to effectively teach students.

To address the increasing demand for teachers qualified to teach engineering courses this project will: produce skilled STEM educators through three newly developed programs, minor in education for students studying engineering, certificate in engineering education for math and science education majors, post-baccalaureate certificate in engineering education for engineering graduate students, provide professional development opportunities for current STEM educators, select a group of students to be trained to present hands-on workshops in local schools serving underrepresented groups in STEM with the intent of enticing these students to consider future studies in STEM related fields, establish the infrastructure to apply for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant.

The project will contribute to a transformative change in STEM educator preparation while providing outreach services to high need schools and attracting these students to STEM fields.

Q: How will this grant impact the education of students here at Manhattan? Will there be opportunities for student involvement?

MAJ: As you can tell from the abstract, this grant will impact engineering and education students who are passionate about teaching and sharing with others what they know about science, math, and engineering. Students will have opportunities to take courses and work with students and teachers in local schools.