Meredith Leighton

About Me: I have been teaching 8th grade science at Raynham Middle School since August 2011. I come from a family of many teachers, and happen to be married to a fellow science teacher who I met in college (Andy). By some miracle, we actually teach at the same middle school. Needless to say, science and education are passions that are the forefront of my life. Inspiring students in STEM education is more important than ever, with our constantly changing world. Teaching adolescents is a daily challenge, but the rewards are endless. I hope to gain experiences that can transferred to my classroom in many ways.

When I’m not in the classroom teaching, I love spending time with my husband, two daughters (Sophie: 6 and Samantha: 1.5) and our two dogs (Dachshund mixes named Peanut and Butterscotch). Life is busy, but an adventure every day!

About the Lab: This summer I am working in the Rao lab in the SYNerg-E Lab: Materials and Processes for Energy & Printed Electronics (formerly known as NanoEnergy Lab). This particular lab is focused on phototonics, which is to process information using light instead of electricity. These devices are often faster and can use less power, and can be made at a much smaller scale. The lab in which I am working within this department is discovering, understanding, and developing advanced materials for many applications, including solar energy conversion catalysis, printed electronics, sensors, and functional coatings. This lab includes work in materials science, mechanical engineering, solid state physics, and thermal sciences.

Project: The project which I am incredibly fortunate to help out with involves a photocatalyst that is made from a compound of copper, bismuth, tungsten, and oxygen (CuBiW2O8, aka CBTO). This compound will be synthesized into very fine crystals. This photocatalyst will be tested in water samples to see if a certain herbicide can be broken down into something that is much less harmful. I will be working under the direction of Dr. Ceren Yilmaz Akkaya to create and test the powder’s performance in degrading the chemical. The information gained from this study is important to assess whether CBTO could be used as a versatile photocatalyst for removing organic and inorganic contaminants from water. 

Weekly Updates:

  • Week 1: This was an incredibly busy week to kick off the RET program! After the orientation, group team-building, and lab safety training, it was time to get right to work. I spent time touring the lab with many people involved. Everyone here is so incredibly friendly and helpful! I met with Dr. Rao and Dr. Yilmaz Akkaya to narrow down the scope of the project and develop the research proposal. This required a great deal of reading scientific journal articles and brushing up on my chemistry knowledge. There were very informative professional development sessions with Donna on Integrated STEM and the Engineering Design Process, where I had a chance to work with all the pre-service and in-service teachers in the program. It was especially helpful to hear input and advice from others, and to try and offer some of my own experiences. I was able to get into the lab and learn more about the equipment and process to synthesize the CBTO. It is a very involved process which will take a few times to get used to.
  • Week 2: This was a busy week learning about many of the instruments involved in this research project. I learned how to complete the final step of the synthesis of CBTO which involved mixing together more chemicals and then having them “cook” in the tube furnace for several hours at extremely high temperatures. We tried a new technique where we tripled the recipe, in hopes of a higher yield of the photocatalyst. After visiting the computer science lab on Friday, I was able to observe x-ray diffraction of the compounds created, in order to see if the crystal structure target was reached. It was really fascinating to see how the x-ray is able to measure this, and we could also make note of any impurities. Very similar to fingerprinting as each crystal has its own “signature”, much like people and their fingerprints. As is with all science, a control experiment was run on Monday to create a standard curve of an indigo indicator solution’s reaction to artificial sunlight over time, which we can use to eventually compare our experimental data. I learned how to use the spectrometer in the lab with the accompanying software, and used spreadsheets to synthesize the data accordingly. This week also featured our first lab meeting with Professor Rao, Dr. Yilmaz Akkaya, and the rest of the lab group- very eye opening and interesting to *attempt* to follow along with what was going on with the other projects! I was able to share my experiences with the OpenSciEd curriculum model during this week’s PD session, which is very inquiry-based and student driven. The initial drafting of our lesson plan has officially begun- time to figure out how to bring this all to the classroom! Phew! What a week!
  • Week 3: There has been a tremendous amount of work being done, that the time is flying by. We were greeted with a professional development session at the beginning of this week, where we could focus much more on our learning targets and how to connect them to specific standards. I got to take a look at academic posters during the poster session and get some ideas for mine, which I will be accomplishing individually as my project is unique in its methods. The lab was busy with making serial dilutions of the herbicide that we will be testing, and it was a trial-and-error experience with how much we could dissolve effectively in the distilled water. Once the herbicide was ready, I mixed in the CBTO powder and began sampling it at specific time intervals in the dark, and then simulated sunlight. Fingers crossed we can see some evidence that this photocatalyst is effective at degradation! The highlight of the week was a potluck get together with all departments on this floor, which gave me a chance to really get to know more of these wonderful people. My husband and six year old daughter paid the lab a visit, and she was sent home with a new pair of goggles and her very own beaker. At least she’ll be protected when she decides to cause some mischief while experimenting!
  • Week 4: It has continued to be quite busy as the second half of the program is already well underway. We got to see Dr. Shell’s lab and her team’s research into tuberculosis. In our lab, more testing of the photocatalyst and herbicide continued, but using different concentrations of each to see which showed success. It is a real lesson in patience waiting between taking the samples. I was trained on the use of the ultraviolet-visible spectrometer to measure the wavelengths of light that was getting through the samples. I look forward to getting some results to report on my academic poster, which a substantial amount has been completed on it. I’ve enjoyed learning more about life in the lab, as it is quite different than the classroom. The wheels in my brain have been constantly spinning to translate this experience into lessons, and now it’s just a matter of narrowing it down and refining during an individual consult and professional development.
  • Week 5: Cannot believe this week is already here. There was much more last minute work to be done, with some final tests and measurements in hopes I would see the data I wanted to see, given this was a completely new experiment for the lab! Various concentrations of the photocatalysts (CBTO and titanium dioxide, which has proven to
    be effective in the past) in the herbicide solution were exposed to the light source. With three hours of measurements to take in 30 minute intervals, there was plenty of time to get my lesson planning done after a consultation with Mia. If I wasn’t lesson planning, I was working on my research project poster. We had the opportunity to have our posters critiqued by the RET staff and colleagues, which helped me tremendously. I received final approval of my research poster with photocatalyst lab team led by Dr. Rao, so it was sent off to be printed. A celebration at the Boynton pub ensued with the cohort and it was so much fun to relax and learn more about one another. Now that the poster is complete, and the lesson plan nearly done, I volunteered to assist with additional experiments in the lab. What kind of scientist would I be to pass that up?! 🙂

Poster and Lesson Plan:

Unit Plan – Human Impact, Renewable Energy, and Pollution Mitigation Initiatives

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