The U.S. Embassy to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States facilitated a discussion between visiting NASA research scientist Dr. Kenneth Cheung and graduate students from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus’ Faculty of Science and Technology at UWI on March 22. Dr. Colin Depradine, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, also participated in the discussion.
Dr. Cheung’s work for NASA focuses on applying digital materials and algorithms to aeronautical and space applications. During the meeting with 10 UWI students, he discussed scientific and technological advances brought about by NASA research, including such now-commonplace products as baby formula, water purification tablets, flame-retardant clothing, and global positioning systems (GPS). He explained several ways in which his work incorporates design, mechanical engineering and materials science to develop new technologies for space exploration. Following his brief opening presentation, Dr. Cheung fielded questions from the graduate students and gave them feedback on specific scientific projects they were working on.
Dr. Cheung, who received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), also talked about his work with the global “Fab Labs” network. Fab Labs are educational outreach centers facilitated by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, which does research into digital fabrication and computation. These low-budget fabrication laboratories are places that provide access to the tools, knowledge and financial means to educate, innovate and invent using technology and digital fabrication to allow anyone to make almost anything, and thereby create opportunities to improve lives and livelihoods. Dr. Cheung shared stories of students as young as 8 years old designing semiconductor boards in Fab Labs.
The U.S. Embassy facilitated the meeting between Dr. Cheung and the UWI graduate students as part of an ongoing effort to promote education and exchange in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — the STEM fields.
“Anytime you put a top NASA research scientist in a room with graduate students, some good ideas are bound to be sparked,” said Yolonda Kerney, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy. “This discussion showed once again that the language of STEM transcends nations. These fields stimulate innovation, generate opportunities for young people, and drive economic growth.”