RET Inspires Research Collaboration Between Middle School Students and MIT Research Group

The Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at the MIT MRSEC immerses local science teachers in materials research on campus to increase their content knowledge, and develop pedagogical material for their classroom use. Douglas Shattuck, a Concord (MA) middle school applied technology teacher took this a step further by initiating a research collaboration between his eighth-grade students and Prof. Markus Buehler’s research group at MIT (Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, or LAMM). The LAMM focuses on using computational materials science to study the mechanics of deformation and failure of biological materials. Using an Araneidae spider web, the Concord students (the “Spider Team”) designed experiments to test the tensile strength, force distribution, and resilience of the web, then presented their results and brainstormed with the LAMM members about next steps.


Two different groups of Concord students, totaling 17, have participated in the collaboration to date.  The first group presented their research in a poster at the 2016 International Microscopy and Microanalysis Conference, and their findings were published in the meeting proceedings (L.Pautler, et al, Microsc. Microanal. 22 (Suppl. 3) 2016, 2090-2091). The current group of eighth-graders will present a poster at the 2017 conference this summer.

This project demonstrates the value of linking public school learning, academic research, and private sector support. JEOL USA supported the effort by providing micrographs of the web. Staff of the New England District, US Army Corps of Engineers contributed technical review as part of an Educational Partnership with the Concord Public Schools. Financial support was provided by the Boston Post, Society of American Military Engineers.