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Veeraraghavan brings electron microscopy to local high school

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Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Rengasayee Veeraraghavan, PhD from The Ohio State University is convinced that STEM and more importantly, the scientific process, are valuable to every human as a means of understanding reality and making sound choices. To ensure more students have access to understanding the world through science, Veeraraghavan’s laboratory has partnered with K-12 STEM educators in central Ohio and the Microscopy Society of America (MSA) to bring experiential STEM learning opportunities to K-12 students in the region. With his perpetual curiosity and infectious excitement for science, Veeraraghavan—who serves as the biological sciences director for the MSA—is an excellent person to stoke young learners’ desire to develop their scientific lens so that they may truly see the world.

“Taking a scientific approach to life has been immensely transformative and empowering for me; thus, I want to share it with as many people as I can.” -Veeraraghavan

December 2023 saw these efforts get a significant boost when Hitachi High-Tech America Inc. accepted a proposal from Dr. Veeraraghavan and Dr. Erik Rothacker (Bodies Allied Health Pathway ECE Coordinator & Instructor, Metro Early College High School, Columbus, Ohio) that provided Metro Early College Schools with a TM4000 Plus tabletop scanning electron microscope on extended loan.

Veeraraghavan, a man of color, stands with students overlooking another student at the computer
Veeraraghavan (right) with students from Metro High School

This microscope was first deployed in January 2024 as local high school students participated in a 10-day course on the theory and practice of scanning electron microscopy. The course was part of Metro School’s annual J-term experiential learning program: a unique two-week program that brings together community partners and educators to offer a diverse range of classes that transcend standard curricula.

Through the course, students learned the basic principles behind electron microscopy as well as how to select and prepare both biological and non-biological materials for imaging. They were taught how to use the scanning electron microscope, take pictures of the nanoscale structures of samples under controlled conditions, and make precise measurements from the pictures to answer research questions. The course was designed and supported by Ms. Sarah Mikula, an electron microscopy expert from OSU’s Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS), and Ms. Madison Ammon (Regional Liaison for the MSA Student Council and biophysics doctoral student in Dr. Veeraraghavan’s Nanocardiology Lab).

The 9th and 10th graders were eager to apply the skills they gained to operate the scanning electron microscope. Students took images of a variety of biological samples ranging from insects (a housefly and praying mantis), plant material (seeds, pollen, dried leaves and flowers), and fossils, to non-biological materials such as Velcro, teabags, Bandaids, microprocessors, and various minerals. Students were particularly intrigued by finding intricate nanostructure where they did not expect, such as the surfaces of sesame seeds and rose petals. They were able to understand structure-function relationships by comparing different materials with similar functional properties, like the absorbent components of Bandaids, KN-95 masks, and facial tissues that shared a similar, spaghetti-like nanostructure.

Black and grey microscopy image that looks like strands of thin hay
Spaghetti-like nanostructure of cotton
black and grey microscopy image that looks like many tiny bumps
Surface of sesame seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the conclusion of the course, several students earned certification as qualified independent  operators of the scanning electron microscope, a skill that will aid them in their high school research projects as well as open doors to STEM programs at the college level. This program, which was designed to challenge students by connecting academic concepts with practical, hands-on applications, is an important step towards aligning formal STEM education at the K-12 level with real-world preparedness.

Veeraraghavan sees the potential for microscopy not only as a learning tool but also as a means for discovery and understanding the fundamental principles of the scientific method.

“The overarching goal for the J-Term microscopy course was to expose students to microscopy to help high school students understand and appreciate the process of science as a robust way to explore and understand reality and thereby, make their lives easier, safer, simpler, and otherwise better,” Veeraraghavan shared.

Veeraraghavan and his laboratory’s ongoing and planned outreach efforts extend well beyond the J-Term and seek to help K-12 students and teachers discover microscopes as an accessible pathway to experiential learning, especially in STEM. In the longer run, Veeraraghavan plans for teachers at Metro and other local schools being trained to use the Hitachi tabletop scanning electron microscope for both classroom learning and research activities. Additionally, members of Veeraraghavan’s Nanocardiology group, local members of the Microscopy Society of America’s student council, and Metro teachers will be trained to transport the readily portable microscope to underserved K-12 schools in central Ohio for outreach events, extending the reach and impact of programs developed in Columbus.  

a group of students look at a microscopy image on a computer screen

Making this January’s J-Term microscopy lesson at Metro High School a success took a village of collaborators and support all rallied by Dr. Veeraraghavan. Thanks are owed in particular to Lori Harvey (Senior Manager STEM Education & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead at Hitachi High-Tech America Inc), who helped bring this electron microscope to Columbus. Veeraraghavan and his team were also supported by Willa Handy and Kevin Cox (science teachers at Metro), Meka Pace (Executive Director of Metro Early College High School), the MSA Education-Outreach Committee, and Chris Hampton (research scientist in the Nanocardiology Lab.

If you would like to support the work that Veeraraghavan is doing in Columbus local schools, email him at veeraraghavan.12@osu.edu.