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November 9th, 2011

Video of the week: ‘Material Marvels’: Yale prof explains materials science in about 3 minutes

Published on November 9th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

Ainissa Ramirez, associate professor at Yale and “science popularizer,” uses bathroom tiles to explain symmetry and five-fold quasicrystal symmetry. Credit: YouTube.

Yale associate professor Ainissa Ramirez is a metallurgist, but we gotta love her, anyhow. This is her last year in the academic world, but she’ll still be teaching in her new career as a “science popularizer.”

She’s got the chops for the job, too. Armed with a passion for materials science and a gift for explaining scientific concepts in lay terms that do not dumb down or skim over the principles at work, she is developing a series of short videos that can be viewed on YouTube called “Material Marvels.”

There are four so far, each about three minutes long. Her explanation of the crystal structure phase change that occurs in shape memory alloys is just about the best explanation of the process I’ve come across. Using examples of seating arrangements in airplanes and movie theaters, she explains the monoclinic to cubic transformation that creates the shape memory effect. In another video, she explains the p-n junction in photovoltaic cells using Lego blocks.

Our favorite here at CTT is “Quasicrystals,” which is a timely follow-up to the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize to Daniel Shechtman for his discovery of five-fold quasicrystal symmetry. Ceramists will appreciate the “Space Shuttle Tiles” clip, too.

In an email she told us, “I have been an advocate of science education for over a decade, so I started this series on my own [without outside funding].”

This career change is a natural extension of other things she’s been doing. In 2004 she started Science Saturdays, a family oriented program that the website says, “brings the excitement of research and the passion of scientists to school-age children in New Haven.” Lectures are on topics like “Genetic Anthropology: Finding Human History in Spit,” and “What Frogs Are Telling Us.”

Ramirez is also one of the so-called Nifty Fifty (times 2) connected to the USA Science and Engineering Festival. This group of 100 scientists and engineers is hitting the middle school and high school circuit in the Washington, DC area to talk to kids—future scientists and engineers—about what it’s like to have a science-based career. Another materials scientist, MIT professor Angela Belcher, is also one of the Nifty Fifty (times 2) speakers.

Be sure to check out the videos. I’m looking forward to her next batch already!

Here’s are the videos Ramirez has up on YouTube so far.

Space Shuttle Tiles

Shape Memory Alloys

Solar Cells

Quasicrystals


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