Middle School Students Visit RPI, Get Inspired

May 2, 2023


Humberto Terrones, Rayleigh Endowed Chair Professor in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy, is as passionate about community outreach as he is about science.

“Sometimes, it takes a very small thing to inspire someone to become a scientist,” said Terrones. “You never know what will spark a child’s imagination!”

Terrones, a native of Mexico, was inspired to pursue a few different scientific careers during his childhood before landing on physics. First, his parents took him to the Teotihuacan pyramids, which sparked his interest in archaeology. Second, he was the first in his class to solve an algebra problem for the privilege of avoiding an exam, so he decided to become a mathematician. Finally, an exceptional physics teacher showed him how he could apply his math knowledge to understand physics and, well, the rest is history.

“These incidents were all significant to me as a child,” said Terrones, who was also inspired by his grandfather’s love of science and still holds dear his books on thermodynamics.

Today, Terrones is an accomplished physicist who also serves on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee of Rensselaer’s Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy Department. He makes outreach to children a priority and keeps his own formative experiences top of mind when developing activities. Recently, he hosted a group of students from KIPP Troy Prep Middle School.

With Terrones’ guidance, the students assembled a buckyball from scratch, learned about the importance of its development, and about its scientific applications. According to the National Science Foundation, buckyballs are “a form of carbon-composed clusters of 60 carbon atoms, bonded together in a polyhedral, or many-sided structure composed of pentagons and hexagons, like the surface of a soccer ball.” They are extremely strong and hold great potential for future use in electronics.

“The students had so much fun and were talking about science the whole way home,” said Nikki Cox, principal of KIPP Troy Prep Middle School. “It was amazing for them to get to see the RPI campus and see that they belong in academic spaces.”

Terrones, who has a record of organizing such workshops, hopes to host the event again next year and share his passion for science with more children. This workshop was made possible thanks to the efforts of Stephanie Black ’23, Ryan McLaughlin ’23, Maya Nambisan ’24, and Cynthia Smith, program director of Rensselaer Pipeline and Partnerships.

Written By Katie Malatino
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