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Program donates to high school labs

Anna Boarini | Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In early September, Michelle Joyce, a Notre Dame chemistry and biochemistry faculty member, decided to take her passion for service, education and science and make a difference.

What resulted was the ND LIGHTS program. LIGHTS stands for “Laboratory Instrumentation Giving Hope To Students.”

“The program is an initiative that takes lab equipment no longer suitable for our research needs, but that is still considered a good teaching tool and putting it into the hands of high school science teachers in underdeveloped schools,” Joyce said.

The program will initially benefit schools around the country that are connected to Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Eventually, Joyce would like the program to grow to other underdeveloped schools, including some in the South Bend area.

“It takes a lot to outfit a lab appropriately,” Joyce said. “It makes a huge difference to students when the correct tools are there.”

Joyce knows all too well how hard it can be for teachers to work with insufficient or outdated equipment, as her father has been a Catholic high school principal for 40 years.

“These high school teachers work tirelessly with almost nothing,” Joyce said. “This is kind of my way to honor my dad.”

Due to the nature of research conducted at Notre Dame, professors need to have the most up-to-date equipment. This initiative will take outdated equipment as well as tools from retired labs and donate them to high school labs.

ND LIGHTS has already collected six pieces of lab equipment at Notre Dame, including a volt and pH meter, Joyce said. Notre Dame faculty members, if they choose, can also be involved in the process of designing experiments to go along with the donated equipment.

Joyce said once a piece of equipment is deemed a surplus item and a charitable donation, an experiment would be designed to go along with basic high school science curriculum and the piece of equipment. ACE teachers would learn the experiments during their training sessions on campus and integrate them into their classrooms.

“This is our way to contribute to the University’s Catholic mission,” Joyce said. “Professors that donate equipment can have their undergrad or grad students develop experiments.”

The collaboration between the Colleges of Science and Engineering and the Office of Sustainability helped begin the ND LIGHTS program. Each piece of lab equipment has to be deemed practical for a high school to maintain and implement in their curriculum. The Office of Sustainability ensures all the paperwork is correctly completed and each piece is approved, Joyce said.

Currently, the program’s goals are more about the quality of the instruments and experiments than their quantity. Joyce plans to follow up with all the teachers receiving equipment to gauge how the program is working after it is introduced into the high schools.

“Right now, the potential is way bigger than we even can see this first year,” Joyce said.