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“Avengers: Infinity War” movie inspires teens to join MENTOR summer camp

OSU-Tulsa research scientist Dr. Feng Lu, left, introduces high school seniors Elise Niehaus and Zoe Ziftar to the scanning electron microscope during MENTOR Camp at the Helmerich Research Center in late July. When Tony Stark transforms into Iron Man at the push of a button in the “Avengers: Infinity War” movie, a stunned onlooker asks, “Where did that come from?”

Iron Man glances at his suit of armor and replies, “It’s nanotech. You like it?”

The movie and its predecessors have spurred news and magazine articles and YouTube videos exploring whether the featured nanotechnology is possible in real life.

For Holland Hall School seniors Elise Niehaus and Zoe Ziftar, the recent movie is part of the reason they signed up for the Materials Engineering and Nano Technology OutReach (MENTOR) Camp hosted by the School of Materials Science and Engineering at OSU-Tulsa.

“Yeah, that scene was pretty cool in the movie and made me want to learn about nanotechnology,” said Ziftar, who hopes to design technology that mimics biological systems.

The week at MENTOR camp in late July sealed their interest in pursuing science careers.

“I’ve enjoyed science my whole life and I want a career in science,” said Niehaus. “This camp sold it.”

The week was spent learning through hands-on experiences about different areas of research going on at the Helmerich Research Center. The students had access to state-of-the-art equipment that typically only graduate students and faculty get to use.

From the scanning electron microscope to the 3-D printers and lasers, Niehaus and Ziftar saw it all.

One of the highlights for both was the clean room, with its magnetron sputterer, electron beam evaporator and reflectometer. Clean rooms are controlled environments aimed at reducing levels of pollutants such as dust and airborne microbes that would contaminate ongoing research projects.

“We were in the head-to-toe suits,” Niehaus said. “It is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Doctoral researcher Ranjan Singhal organized and facilitated the MENTOR camp.

“The HRC is such an amazing facility for the camp. There’s enough space and personnel and research activity going on to draw young students,” he said.

This is the first time MSE has hosted a summer camp for high school students. The MENTOR camp joins a roster of eight STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camps offered to K-12 students by the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology throughout the state.

The summer camp initiative is aimed at addressing the nationwide shortage of engineers by getting more youth interested in STEM careers, said Ed Kirtley, OSU CEAT assistant dean of extension.

“It was our goal to reach as many kids as possible and make sure they know the opportunities available to them in the world of STEM,” said Brandy Mays, assistant departmental manager and program training coordinator for CEAT Professional Development.

More than 300 children and teens attended one of the STEM camps, which were held in Guymon, Bartlesville, Tulsa and Stillwater. Camp topics included fire protection, robotics and unmanned aerial systems.

“It’s a real joy to see them get excited about technology. Once they leave, they will be the best ambassadors for our MSE program,” said Dr. Raman Singh, head of the MSE school, director of the HRC and associate dean for the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. “This camp is a good example of living up to OSU’s land-grant mission of outreach.”

Gallery: MENTOR Summer Camp at OSU-Tulsa

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Zoe Ziftar and Elise Niehaus, right, learn about the Helmerich Research Center's clean room.
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