Dr. James Perkins visits NPHS Technology Education Department from London

North Penn School District  |  Posted on
image Dr. James Perkins poses with Mike Boyer and his Nanotechnology class.

Dr. James Perkins poses with Mike Boyer and his Nanotechnology class.

The North Penn High School (NPHS) Technology and Engineering Education Department was very pleased to welcome Dr. James Perkins from St. Paul’s School in London for an observational visit in November. James Perkins is a physics teacher and head of science research at St. Paul’s School, one of the leading independent schools in the United Kingdom. St. Paul’s recently purchased a scanning electron microscope (SEM) with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) capabilities and Perkins has been developing a program of research, enrichment and outreach opportunities in the UK using this capital equipment.

In April of 2016, Perkins reached out to NPHS Technology and Engineering Education Department Chair Mike Boyer with a remarkable opportunity. Perkins was awarded the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship, which provided him funding to travel to gather information, share good practices and develop networks regarding the wider idea of doing SEM-related research in a high school environment. Perkins explained that while he was looking into other schools around the world that have similar facilities and programs to his at St. Paul’s, he came across NPHS as a school with access to a SEM. The Technology and Engineering Education program at NPHS is extremely advanced and offers a variety of impressive programs and educational opportunities for students. In the Engineering Design and Development course of the Engineering Academy is unique program, developed by Boyer, called The Future is N.E.A.R. which stands for Nanotechnology Education and Research. “Many of our research endeavors require students to observe the materials they create, which are often smaller than the wavelength of light, with an advanced tool such as an SEM.” explained Boyer. “When I started teaching Nanotechnology in 2005, I realized that the students can’t really see what they’re doing without a high powered microscope. Optical microscopes just aren’t powerful enough,” he said.

Boyer formed a partnership with Evan Slow from Angstrom Scientific Inc. to arrange for his students to have an opportunity to work with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) which hosts the power needed to properly study nanotechnology. NPHS students would often travel to Drexel University to use their SEMs to characterize the results from their experiments. A few years later, Robert Gordon, Vice President of Hitachi America, caught wind of North Penn’s impressive nanotechnology research endeavors and work with SEMs. While traveling to the East coast, Gordon visited the NPHS Engineering Academy and after seeing student presentations of their work, immediately put NPHS on a rotation to borrow an SEM from Hitachi via the Inspire STEM Education initiative for a few weeks at a time. “Having the ability to work with an SEM on a regular basis allows for much more in-depth learning experiences for our students,” said Boyer. “When we have the SEM on loan, students are able to make process adjustments and rerun projects immediately instead of having to wait until our next trip to Drexel. Someday, I hope to have an SEM here at North Penn full time. This instrument could provide so many opportunities for our students and teachers K-12 and the local community members, too.”

This kind of work is precisely what Perkins was interested in observing. Through research and with a suggestion from Bob Gordon at Hitachi USA, Perkins decided that NPHS would be a great place to share best practices in terms of the use of advanced scientific instrumentation in a high school setting. Perkins visited NPHS with his wife and children from Nov. 1-4, staying with Boyer and his family. During his stay, he was able to see the NPHS nanotechnology research students in action and also visited with the Engineering Projects and Community Service (EPICS) club at one of their regular meetings on Nov. 2. Perkins asked a lot of questions and received many takeaways to go back and share these best practices in London. Perkins documented some of the projects and new information that he learned while visiting North Penn HS in a blog, which you can read here: http://blog.researchinschools.org/index.php/2016/11/08/getting-a-head-in-research-at-north-penn-high-school/.

Boyer’s students from the Engineering Design and Development course were recently invited to present their nanotechnology and engineering research at an International Science Conference at St. Paul’s School in London in March. Plans are underway to seek funding to cover the travel costs. If the funding is acquired and the students are able to travel, they will be presenting alongside high school students from other nations. North Penn would be the first high school to represent the U.S. at this international conference.