June 2010

Creating Our Future, One “Aha!” at a Time

For educators, few experiences equal witnessing a student‘s “aha!” moment. Breakthroughs fuel a student’s determination to succeed, and confirm a professor’s worth as a teacher and mentor.

Amy Chyao and Ken Balkus are an example of the “aha!” moment in action. Amy bested more than 1,600 of the world’s brightest students to become the inaugural holder of the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award, given for the first time in honor of the Intel co-founder and retired chairman and CEO at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose recently. Her path to this extraordinary achievement led straight through UT Dallas and the Balkus lab.

Amy Chyao at the Intel Awards

Amy’s association with UT Dallas began with Awesome Math and Metroplex Math Circle, summer and weekend programs run by Associate Professor Titu Andreescu. Amy advanced to join a group of about 30 students in the George A. Jeffrey NanoExplorer program founded by Dr. Ray Baughman, director of the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kenneth Balkus, professor of chemistry, Amy spent her summer vacation between freshman and sophomore year at Williams High (Plano) creating semiconducting nanoparticles that, when exposed to certain wavelengths of light, generate a highly reactive form of oxygen that can kill cancer cells. Her project became “Lights, Quantum Dots, Action” and won grand prizes at the Plano ISD and Dallas Regional Science Fairs, the Texas Junior Academy of Science, Best of the Fair grand prize at the Texas State Science Fair, and now the Intel award. She plans to return to the Balkus lab this summer, not as an explorer, but as a researcher. She will also complete Calculus II at UT Dallas via a small scholarship program that supports a few young students each year whose needs exceed the mathematics available in public schools and community colleges.

More than 135 high schoolers have become NanoExplorers since 2002. Many win prestigious competitions, publish research, earn fellowships and pursue their PhDs. NanoExplorers is part of a growing effort here to interest K-12 students in science. Our Science and Engineering Education Center (SEEC) offers “Contact Science,” a hands-on approach to learning by experimenting. The Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science sponsors the Ultimate Robotics Team at Richardson’s Apollo Junior High, recognized with an award at this year’s VEX Robotics World Championship for building an outstanding robotics program.

As we move toward national research university status, UT Dallas has an obligation to foster opportunity for “aha!” moments, not only among its own students, but across its constituency. A “Tier One” university contributes significantly to the level of achievement in its community as a whole. UT Dallas seeks opportunity to interact with area schools to strengthen K-12 and to make sure our region’s most able students can flex their intellectual muscles in an environment that offers both challenge and encouragement. Investment in the youngest minds in our community is an investment in making our great city even greater and creating the kind of future we all will want to share.

About This Newsletter

The President’s Viewpoint is a periodic newsletter distributed to a select group of alumni, friends, faculty and staff. It comes from the desk of Dr. David E. Daniel, President of The University of Texas at Dallas, and provides the ultimate insider’s view on the news and concerns of the university.