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U-M prof brings experience as scientist to MS science classes

DSC_0076Students in Bridget Maldonado’s middle school science classes got a special treat last week when Alec D. Gallimore, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan, stopped by to teach a class. 

Prof. Gallimore, who will assume the deanship at Michigan Engineering this summer, has been coming to Greenhills to talk about being a scientist since his daughter Morgan, now a Greenhills sophomore, was in Maldonado’s sixth-grade class.

The visits, like others at Greenhills, are supported by the Sincock Family Endowment, a Greenhills fund that promotes student interaction with academic, artistic, business, and scientific leaders outside the school.

See a Flickr album of photos from the class here 

Maldonado said her invitation to Gallimore originally grew out of her sixth graders’ interest in plasma.

“During the sixth grade chemistry unit, students explore the particle nature of matter, specifically looking at how and why solids, liquids, and gasses are different at the molecular level,” Maldonado said. “During this unit, students always have lots of questions about the fourth state of matter: plasma.”

It was during one such discussion that Morgan Gallimore mentioned that her dad, who specializes in aerospace engineering and applied physics, does research involving plasma. Maldonado emailed Prof. Gallimore that day, inviting him to stop by and share his research. The professor quickly agreed.

Beyond his research—fascinating enough on its own, especially since it will one day be instrumental in transporting humans to Mars—he also shares stories about day-to-day life as a scientist. The upsides include traveling the world, often with his family; collaborating with brilliant colleagues from every part of the globe and all kinds of different backgrounds; and helping the next generation of scientists learn their trade.

But he also shares some of the lesser-known realities of how science is done: the need for scientists to find their own sources of funding, what happens when your data fails to support your hypothesis, and the importance of nearly continuous revisions.

“Every year my favorite part of Alec’s talk is when he talks about scientific practices and how important they are, particularly the importance of modeling and revisions,” Maldonado said. “These are two scientific practices the 6th graders spend a lot of time with, and they spiral through the entire middle school science curriculum.”

For Greenhills students eager to learn more about science in the real world, expert visitors such as Prof. Gallimore can provide more than just information—they can provide inspiration, as well.

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.