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WPI projects win NSF grants; Work on science education, tiny sensors receive funding.

Byline: Jacqueline Reis

WORCESTER - Two Worcester Polytechnic Institute projects recently won grants from the National Science Foundation, one of them for approximately $1.5 million to help improve science education and the other for $180,000 to explore the possibilities of nanoscopic metal sensors.

The first grant will help professors Janice Gobert, Neil Heffernan, Ryung S. Kim and Carolina Ruiz take a math computer program called ASSISTment and apply it to science education. The math version asks students a series of questions, helps them learn material and helps teachers gauge which parts of the curriculum students have mastered and which they're still struggling with. Middle schools in Worcester, Shrewsbury and Leicester use it.

The science version will be more open-ended, Ms. Gobert said. "What we're trying to do is really tutor students on inquiry strategies," she said, such as how to set up an experiment and control for variables.

The $1.5 million grant comes on top of a $2 million grant the ASSISTment project received in May from the federal Department of Education to improve the math tool.

L. Ramdas Ram-Mohan, a physics professor at WPI, received $180,000 for work on nanoscopic metal-semiconductor hybrid elements and arrays with professor Stuart Solin of Washington University in St. Louis. Their research concerns tiny nonmagnetic metal-semiconductor sensors - smaller than the diameter of a hair - that could expand the capacity of computer hard drives. Because the sensors are extremely sensitive, they could also have applications in the medical field and other areas.

"Right now we are trying to see what would happen if you have a whole array of these nanoscale sensors so that we could map out the variations of magnetic fields over very small regions, including biological cells," Mr. Ram-Mohan said.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 23, 2007
Words:291
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