Each summer, eight to twelve science and mathematics teachers converge on Fermilab to learn what it means to conduct experimental research. For three months, these Teacher Research Associates become students again, increasing their awareness and understanding of current science and technology.
"Teachers from around the nation come to Fermilab to be reinvigorated about science and take this excitement back to their students," said Ron Ray, director of the Teachers Research Associates Program.
Each teacher is assigned to a scientist or engineer involved in a research project. In past years, teachers worked on many different experiments including Main Injector Particle Production and CDF upgrades, doing everything from testing polymers to evaluating phototubes to developing software. More than 250 teachers have held research positions since the program began in 1983, and each teacher was supported by a mentor.
"Those who volunteer to become mentors do something that's bigger than themselves. They help to create better science teachers and better science students, impacting the entire community," said Ray. "Mentors make the program work. Without mentors, there is no program."
Thomas Las, a teacher at Minooka Junior High School in Minooka, Illinois, says that his mentor and the Fermilab program as a whole have changed his attitude about teaching science.
"If you're not experienced in science, you tend to be afraid of it," said Las. "Before I came to Fermilab, even though I majored in science, I would still only do the 'cookbook' experiments with the students. Now I'm confident enough to try new experiments in the classroom."
Las, who has worked at Fermilab for several summers in a row, said that his students seem to have picked up on his interest. "I constantly talk to the kids about Fermilab, and they seem very interested in what's going on here," he said.
Ray hopes that this is the case, and says that the value of the program is long term. "The real benefits won't be seen for a decade or so, when today's students become tomorrow's scientists," said Ray.