A professor in the Quantum Device Physics Laboratory at MC2, Schröder often collaborates with upper-secondary schools with the aim of expanding knowledge of theoretical material physics. Upper-secondary students are regularly invited in to participate actively in real-life ongoing research projects at Chalmers.
“It’s important to teach about our research through education and outreach,” Schröder says. “Children and young people are natural target groups for this because they’re already involved in learning. Their experiences of research projects will shape their attitudes towards research in the future.”
A week at Chalmers
Students Jonas Ericsson, Teodor Husmark, Christoffer Mathiesen and Benjamin Sepahvand, then at Hulebäcksgymnasiet, carried out parts of the research themselves in the project at MC2. They spent a week at Chalmers and got to know what it’s like being a part of a research team in the working environment of the department. The work also included an introduction to the topic at home, a few months of group work, a final report and a poster presentation for classmates, parents, teachers and research coordinators. They also had to solve an individual problem, where they had to calculate how many times a ball actually bounces – before tackling the live project at Chalmers.
“The focus of the student project was to examine the ability of graphene-based filters to trap the volatile and harmful substance toluene,” Schröder explains.
In its pure form, toluene, or methyl benzene, is a colourless fluid that smells like regular oil. It is primarily used in motor fuel, and is one of the major components of petrol in terms of volume.
Solving physics problems with computers
The students carried out density functional theory (DFT) computations – a method of calculating at the atomic scale, based directly on the Schrödinger equation of quantum physics – using computational physics, which is a form of scientific research aiming to solve physics problems using computers. The computation was done in part in C3SE, Chalmers research infrastructure for demanding computation and data storage.
Positive course evaluations
The collaboration with Chalmers and Gothenburg University was a part of the popular “Research Course” at Hulebäcksgymnasiet. The course has been held for over 10 years and attracts particularly motivated students.
“The course evaluations have always been highly positive,” Schröder says, “and the students usually particularly appreciate being able to conduct real research that is of direct interest to us scientists.”
Summarised in a scientific article
The research project is now being summarised in the article “Involving High School Students in Computational Physics University Research: Theory Calculations of Toluene Adsorbed on Graphene” in the scientific journal Plos One.
The project was carried out with support from the Swedish Research Council and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. In addition to Elsebeth Schröder, others who made key contributions are Pär Lydmark and Linda Gunnarsson, the students’ teachers at Hulebäcksgymnasiet; and Øyvind Borck, researcher and teacher at the Randaberggymnasiet upper-secondary school in Randaberg, Norway.
Text: Michael Nystås
Photo: Henrik Sandsjö
Caption to the above figure: The atomic structures of benzene, and the methylbenzenes toluene, paraxylene, and mesitylene. The student research project focuses on toluene (top right), whereas the continuation of the project involves also benzene and paraxylene (bottom left), the so-called BTX-family, as well as mesitylene (bottom right).
Read the article in Plos One: