Educational Outreach Overview

The MRSEC Center actively promotes interdisciplinary education, and research in materials science and engineering. MRSEC participants are actively involved in programs that engage the public, teachers, students, and young scientists and engineers in the excitement of scientific discovery, which increases awareness of the impact of scientific research on their daily lives. The Center's goals are to increase public engagement in and awareness of advances in materials science and engineering, and to promote career advancement for a diverse group of scientists who represent the future of materials science. The educational initiatives at the pre-college, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels include embedded diversity initiatives, and strategic collaborations whenever possible to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Public Engagement

We strive to increase scientific and engineering literacy, and to promote awareness of career opportunities in materials science and engineering. These activities, which highlight ongoing research of the MRSEC at Harvard, include:

  • Holiday Lecture Series — Since 2002, each year, the MRSEC co-sponsors a holiday science lecture for children and families. The lectures are a collaboration between the Harvard and Princeton MRSECs, led by Professor Howard Stone. 2017's lecture, "Hold Your Temper: Celebrating the Science of Chocolate" was held December 17, 2017 at Harvard University with over 650 attendees at Harvard, and on December 16, 2017 at Princeton University.
  • Science and Cooking — In 2010, David Weitz and Michael Brenner, with postdoctoral fellows Otger Campas and Amy Rowat (now faculty at UCSB and UCLA), developed the highly popular undergraduate course Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science (chemistry). This course is now offered each fall for Harvard undergraduates. The Harvard team works closely with renowned chefs such as Joanne Chang, to develop course content for each week of the course, which culminates into a final project for each student. Students are tasked with delving into the scientific concepts of a recipe or culinary invention, or designing a scientific solution to a culinary problem. In conjunction with the course, each chef also co-presents a public lecture each week with Weitz and Brenner.

    The course and public lectures have been featured in the popular press in outlets such as NBC, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe. The 14 free public lectures have a regular attendance of 300-500 people each week. Public lectures are also posted on iTunes and YouTube, and can be viewed on the SEAS website. Since Fall 2013, Science & Cooking has been offered worldwide via HarvardX, with an enrollment of over 90,000.
  • Talks for science museum audiences
  • Participation in Community Science Days

Learn more about Public Engagement

Pre-College Activities — Elementary and Middle School Activities

We have developed several partnerships that engage a diverse group of K-12 students and teachers in our local community in the research and educational activities of the MRSEC. These include:

  • Cambridge Public Schools 8th Grade Science & Engineering Showcase — Codeveloped by the Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) Science Department and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences with he MRSEC, the Cambridge 8th Grade Science & Engineering Showcase program benefits CPS eighth-grade students at Harvard to present their science and engineering projects, and to participate in laboratory tours and talks by researchers. Science and Engineering Showcase hosted in Cambridge with MRSEC faculty and researchers lead tours and demonstrations, and give students feedback on their projects.
  • Boston Area Girls STEM Collaborative (Increasing Participation of Women) — Each April, the MRSEC at Harvard co-hosts a Science, Engineering and Technology in the City (SET in the City) technology career awareness day for over 150 high school girls. First offered in June 2009, this event is co-organized by the Boston Area Girls STEM Collaborative, an organization founded in 2009 by outreach professionals at Boston area colleges (including Kathryn Hollar), Science Club for Girls, the Museum of Science, Boston, and area technology companies.
  • 3-D Printing and Soft Robotics Workshop — The MRSEC also hosts 25-30 middle school girls for one day at Harvard as part of a week-long STEM summer day camp for Boston-area girls. These half-day workshops on 3D printing and soft robotics are traditionally led by Jennifer Lewis, Conor Walsh, and students and postdocs in their groups. In 2017, a team from the Walsh group led a training session for REU students on the soft robotics toolkit. These students subsequently led the workshop for middle school girls, and several students implemented a soft robotics workshop at their home institutions in the academic year following.
  • Research Experiences for Teachers Program and STEAMeD Teacher Workshops — In Fall 2017, in collaboration with Michael Brenner, Pia Sorensen, lead preceptor for the HarvardX Science and Cooking course, and graduate student Vayu Maini Reykdal, founder of the Young Chefs program, the MRSEC hosted its first STEAMeD teacher training workshop (Fig. 2). The 2-day workshop led 11 teachers and after-school providers in 4 lessons: (1) tortillas and elasticity; (2) pickling and pH; (3) spice and solubility; and (4) molten chocolate cake and heat transfer. During the workshop, teachers shared feedback and ideas for adapting current lessons in various settings and for different age groups. In 2022, Kate Strangfeld, Kathryn Hollar, and Pia Sorensen established an RET Workshop for Teacher Outreach that brought Science and Cooking concepts to middle and high school teachers, to teach students chemistry and physics concepts that children can easily grasp from their own kitchens.
  • Science & Cooking Programs for Elementary and Middle School — Beginning in 2012, an offshoot of the adult "Science and Cooking" course and public lecture series, a two-week camp built on the idea that time in the kitchen and laboratory is a great opportunity for children to explore their natural curiosity and to learn science, math, and healthy habits, too.

    In 2014, Science and Cooking for Kids a recipe for success, students in the 4th through 6th grade from Cambridge and the surrounding communities learned how to connect cooking with science and math concepts. The free classes were taught by Harvard researchers and local award-winning chefs.

    The 2015 "Science and Cooking for Kids" program, Local children learn the principles behind cooking food.

    In its third year 2016, the "Science and Cooking for Kids" program with Chemistry’s role in chocolate bars shows kids the science behind food continued to expand reaching students at the Ed Portal, the Margaret Fuller House, and the Cambridge Community Center.

    In 2017, the MRSEC continued to offer two programs for elementary and middle school students that are extensions of the highly popular Science and Cooking undergraduate course and public lectures. In summer 2017, RET Frank Mooney led the Science & Cooking Summer Program once per week for 5-6 weeks in collaboration with the Harvard Education Portal in Allston (10 students), the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in Cambridge (25-37 students each week), and the Cambridge Community Center (8-12 students weekly). The main goal of this program is to challenge students in grades 4-6 to think of science and math not just as potential career paths, but as inherently useful skills in their everyday lives. The re-design of the program has allowed the MRSEC to reach more economically diverse students by partnering with programs whose participants are from underrepresented groups. Information on the summer 2017 Science & Cooking activities is available.

    In 2019, a group of 6- and 7-year-olds conducted several culinary experiments for an Edible experimentation to made fruit smoothies to understand the varying densities of different liquids, and sugar cookies while testing the reactions of diaper and snow polymers.
  • 3-D Printing and Science & Cooking Programs: Native American High School Students — The MRSEC continued its collaboration with the Harvard Medical School to deliver two sessions on science and cooking for a group of 18 Hopi, Navajo, Assiniboine, and Sioux high school students. The students and their teachers, who were at the Harvard Medical School for a 3-week program on "The Neuroscience of Addiction," participated in 2 short modules on science and cooking. The 3rd afternoon was dedicated to a 3D printing workshop led by members of the Lewis group. 2017 Science & Cooking activities is available.

Learn more about Pre-College, Elementary, and Middle School Activities

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program

The MRSEC directly supports 12 REU students per year. Through a combination of MRSEC support together with the REU site award, other NSF grants, and Harvard funding, MRSEC faculty members mentored over 39 students through the REU program in 2017. The REU/RET Site, which funds 9-10 students per summer, is linked very closely to the MRSEC, and focuses on giving undergraduates who have had little or no previous research experience opportunities at Harvard. The MRSEC leads a military veteran recruitment program, and hosts veterans each summer. Students supported by the MRSEC and REU/RET Site were part of a larger group of 86 students who participated in a full series of professional development activities.

MRSEC faculty, students, and staff recruit at the following conferences for REU, graduate, and postdoctoral positions. Please look for us at the Harvard SEAS or Physics table.

  • AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society)
  • SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science)
  • ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students)
  • NSBP (National Society of Black Physicists)

Learn more about the REU Program

Education and Career Development in the Research Community

These activities provide opportunities for Center participants to develop pedagogical, research, and career development skills.

Learn more about Education and Career Development in the Research Community