CSMC participates in outreach at the Capitol Building

The Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry participated in UO Day on April 11th at the Capitol Building in Salem, OR.

 This biennial event is intended to show lawmakers and others the accomplishments of the university. The CSMC, along with other campus programs, participated to highlight the university’s service to the state. CSMC graduate students Kurtis Fairley (Darren Johnson lab) and Richard Westover (Dave Johnson lab), along with postbaccalaureate Chris Evoniuk (Darren Johnson lab) spent the morning demonstrating the principles of thin film formation and spin-coating to many passersby. Individuals ranging from lobbyists to middle-school students on class trips had the opportunity to make colorful bookmarks and decorative spin art slides that showed how thin films are made and useful for today’s electronics industry.

Spectators wrote messages on card stock. Once the card stock was submerged in water, a drop of clear nail polish was added to the water. The nail polish spread over the surface of the water and formed a film. The card stock was pulled through the film and as it dried, an iridescent display of colors remained on the card stock. “The different colors are because of film thickness”, Kurtis explained. Similar to what you see with an oil slick, thick films result in a red color and a thin film results in a blue color. One drop of nail polish can make a thin film that spreads out over a large area allowing the entire bookmark to be covered by a very thin film. This gave the CSMC researchers a chance to show policymakers and Oregon citizens the essence of Center research.

The audience also got a first-hand look at how the Center makes thin films. Onlookers placed drops of paint onto glass slides that were spun using a computer fan and a battery and saw how the paint spread over the surface of the slide to make films. This is analogous to how the Center uses clusters that are dissolved in water to also make films. This process leads to low-energy and low-waste methods for creating materials useful for devices such as transistors and photovoltaics. This route could one day become a greener alternative for device fabrication compared to current industry practices.

While participants got an opportunity to see the value several university programs have for the state, the demonstrators also gained something special from the experience. Kurtis noted that “Directly interacting with law makers and the movers and shakers about why the Center research is so vital to keeping Oregon on the cutting edge academically and industrially” was an important aspect of UO Day. Richard spoke to the experience of talking about science “…from perspectives as different as the people we talk to”. Although not officially apart of the CSMC, future Florida State University graduate student Chris developed a new found excitement for outreach and public speaking. From his standpoint, “…as an organic chemist, learning the CSMC science and teaching it to non-scientists” was a new and exciting challenge.

UO Day is example of the promise of change when government and academia meet. If universities can stand in front of policymakers and show their importance, profound changes can occur that will lead to future success. Better yet, if students can speak, government will listen. Nothing speaks to the success of a university like the accomplishments of its students.