Carnegie Mellon University

Teacher Professional Development

Since 2006 the Gelfand Center has created opportunities for middle and high school teachers of STEM subjects to meet with Carnegie Mellon faculty and students. These workshops are held on Saturdays and during after school hours during the academic year or in the summer. Teachers gain a broader understanding of what it means to conduct research and how research is integrated into the work of a scientist or engineer.  The format includes presentations, hands-on activities, tours of research facilities and panel discussions. Participants also learn about opportunities for middle and high school students to become engaged in research activities and how students can share their work through regional  competitions and programs. In many cases the Carnegie Mellon faculty members are hoping that teachers will help them to understand the connections between their research and content that is taught in schools. This information is frequently used to design broader impacts strategies for National Science Foundation Proposals.

See information about recent and upcoming programs:

Our climate on Earth depends on a delicate balance between the sunlight entering our atmosphere that warms us up, and radiation that leaves Earth, cooling it down. Because clouds are white and Earth’s surface is mostly dark, clouds play a critical role in determining how much sunlight gets reflected from the Earth and how much gets absorbed. Clouds are also complicated and difficult to represent in the climate models that we use to predict global temperature changes. Dr Hamish Gordon’s research is focused on studying clouds: for example, why some clouds are brighter than others, why some clouds have liquid droplets and some frozen droplets, and why some clouds rain and others don’t. The effects of air pollution on clouds have led to changes to cloud properties over the industrial period that have cooled the climate, partially counteracting effects on climate from greenhouse gases. The most important tools scientists have for studying clouds are satellites taking pictures of Earth from space. In this workshop, we will discuss how clouds affect climate, cloud formation, liquid and ice clouds, and what we can learn about clouds from satellites.

Hamish Gordon, PhD, is an assistant research professor in the College of Engineering at CMU. His research interests are focused on the effects of air pollution and natural airborne particles on clouds and climate. His group studies these effects using a computer model that is able to forecast both weather and climate. A key focus is testing the model with data from satellites, aircraft and surface measurements. Dr Gordon received his first degree from the University of Cambridge in 2009, and his doctorate from the University of Oxford in experimental high energy physics in 2013. He moved to Carnegie Mellon from a postdoc position at the University of Leeds in 2019."

In this session, Dr. Guannan Qu reviewed fundamentals of reinforcement learning / control [Machine Learning] and shared basic examples from his research. On the practical side, his research is driven by applications like energy/power systems, IoT, transportation systems, robot teams, etc.

Guannan Qu, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon.  He earned a PhD at Harvard and served as a post doctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology before coming to Carnegie Mellon in 2021.  His research interest lies in control, optimization, and machine/reinforcement learning with applications to power systems, multi-agent systems, Internet of things, and smart cities.

Dr. Webster-Wood’s lab works on the cutting-edge technology of biohybrid and organic robotics. Her research team looks to animals and plants as both a source of inspiration for the design of new robots, but also as sources of renewable resources for robot fabrication. Her long-term research goal is to create programmable autonomous robots using organic materials that are ‘green’, biodegradable, and safe when interacting with humans and the environment. Currently her research team is studying how muscle can be used to actuate robots, how to fabricate completely soft organic actuators and structures, how animals respond to chemicals in their environment, and how to capture the amazing capabilities of animals in bio-inspired controllers and mechanisms. Biohybrid and organic robots have applications in environmental monitoring as well as search and rescue.

Vickie Webster-Wood was trained in mechanical engineering as an undergraduate and transitioned into robotics during graduate school in the Biorobotics Lab at Case Western Reserve University. As a PhD student she expanded her training to include tissue engineering and cell culture for robotic applications. To expand her technical experience in tissue engineering, she joined the Tissue Fabrication and Mechanobiology Lab at Case Western Reserve University as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2017. She joined the faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 2018.

Humans have significantly altered the composition of the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Numerous trace pollutants react to form nanoparticles in the air. These particles play a large role in air quality, cloud formation, and ultimately climate. Dr. Coty Jen's lab focuses on measuring and modeling how these particle formation reactions occur in the atmosphere and building instruments to measure extremely low concentration pollutants. 

 Coty Jen is an assistant professor of Chemical Engineering at CMU. She is a member of the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies. Her research focuses on how nanoparticles form and grow in the atmosphere and ultimately impact the environment. Her group designs and builds instruments for measuring the composition of 1 nm particles formed from manmade pollution and biogenic emissions. Her previous research examined the millions of organic compounds emitted during wildfires and how these compounds impact human health and air quality. Dr. Jen completed her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Columbia University, M.S. in Chemical Engineering at University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, and postdoc in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at University of California, Berkeley.

A PhD can sound like a lofty and intimidating endeavor. Countless students don’t even consider the possibility of pursuing a PhD because, in their minds, they are “not smart enough”. This mindset is often amplified in disadvantaged communities where exceptional students might never interact with someone who has a PhD until they reach college, creating an unfortunate cycle. But what does it really take to be a PhD student? Is there a threshold of intelligence that one must have to consider pursuing graduate school (Spoiler Alert: NO!)? How can we, as a community, make obtaining a PhD feel more accessible to all students?

Gaurav Balakrishnan is a first-year PhD student in the Materials Science and Engineering department working in the interface of materials and medicine, designing edible electronic medical devices. In this session, he will walk through some key moments in his educational journey and present his biggest takeaways pertaining to research and higher education in an effort to shed light on some of those questions. Additionally, there will also be a discussion session on building equity in education and lowering barriers for students to pursue higher education, and the role university-school partnerships can play in furthering this effort.

Smart contracts, popularized by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, are programs that run atop financial infrastructure and command the flow of money according to user-defined algorithms.  Such contracts can implement new, decentralized financial instruments or even virtual corporations defined only by the bundle of smart contracts programmatically governing their behavior.  For example, an eBay-like smart contract could directly connect buyers with sellers, support a variety of auction mechanisms, and manage necessary payments (including escrow), without the transaction charges currently imposed by eBay, PayPal, and the credit card companies.  In general, moving business processes into smart contracts promises to lower costs, reduce friction, and unleash innovation by eliminating intermediaries and automating settlements.

However, programming smart contracts requires a deep understanding of cryptographic techniques, a non-standard execution cost model, and economic mechanism design.  Existing smart-contract programming languages provide little support for such reasoning; indeed, contract vulnerabilities have already led to multi-million-dollar thefts.

In this workshop, Dr.Bryan Parno and Dr. Jan Hoffman introduced the ideas behind blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and smart contracts.  They discussed some of the security challenges unique to these new technologies, as well as some of their on-going research into how to prevent or mitigate these new vulnerabilities.

Intended for high school biology teachers, this professional development session will help educators to learn about emerging areas of research in biomedical engineering.

Dr. Ren’s lab works on the cutting-edge technology of whole-organ decellularization, which remove cells from animal organs or discarded human organs and turn them into scaffold framework for building new organs. They combine decellularized organ scaffolds with human stem cells for bioengineering of human organs for transplantation therapy. 

Xi Ren (Charlie) was trained as a developmental biologist during his graduate study focusing on the vascular and hematopoietic systems. Moving from vascular development to vascular engineering, he joined the Laboratory for Organ Engineering and Regeneration at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2012. He became Instructor in Surgery at Harvard Medical School in 2016. During this time, he developed systematic strategies for engineering functional vasculature based on decellularized organ scaffolds. He joined the faculty of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 2017.

In STEM classrooms and maker spaces students are able to apply knowledge and develop skills while solving problems or responding to a challenge. Did you know that the Office of Education and Outreach at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has designed resources to motivate students while integrating invention education and information about intellectual property [patents, copyrights, trademarks] and entrepreneurship into classroom activities? 

Representatives from the USPTO will present resources and activities that can be used to help students explore the creation of new inventions or the improvement of existing solutions.  You’ll also learn about inventors and innovations that are being developed at Carnegie Mellon University (in 2018, more than 540 inventors have 269 invention disclosures with more than 236 patents filed!)

Contact Judy Hallinen for more information.