Identifying the Foundational Concepts and Skills of Materials Chemistry
Effective Years: 2023-2026
This project aims to serve the national interest by identifying the concepts and skills necessary for materials chemistry research. Solutions to the Nation’s most challenging problems require materials designed with the right chemical properties. For example, addressing energy needs requires higher-efficiency solar panels; decreasing the prevalence of microplastics requires robust plastic alternatives. Consequently, materials chemistry is a rapidly growing field of research and area of the national workforce. However, materials chemistry is not commonly represented in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum, and it is not clear which concepts and skills are essential for a holistic preparation in materials chemistry. With support from the NSF EDU Core Research: Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program, this Individual Investigator Development-track (IID) project seeks to advance understanding of what concepts and skills are used in materials chemistry research through a national survey of post-doctoral researchers. This understanding will enable education researchers to study student learning in crucial content areas, and will aid educators in providing opportunities for students to develop materials chemistry competencies. Concurrently, this project will build the quantitative skills of an early-career education researcher in survey design and statistical analysis. In this way, this project enables the enhancement of the national STEM workforce in areas relevant to major national and global challenges.
This study uses an integrated conceptual framework to operationalize skills and concepts. This framework informs the collection of exploratory interviews with postdoctoral scholars who conduct materials chemistry research. An inductive analysis of these interviews will yield insights that will inform the development of a quantitative survey. In alignment with the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, evidence based on test content, response process, and internal structure will be used to ensure validity of the data produced by the survey, and its interpretation. The survey will be administered nationally to postdoctoral scholars in materials chemistry. Responses will be analyzed using cluster analysis and social network analysis. These findings will be used to develop a map identifying the materials chemistry skills and concepts in use, their relative frequency of use, and the relationships between them. Project outcomes will center the skill and concept map. Project findings and outcomes will be shared through presentations and open-access research publications. For this individual investigator development project, the principal investigator (PI) will develop relevant quantitative skills through coursework and collaboration from a project mentor and advisory board. This project is supported by NSF’s EDU Core Research Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program, which is designed to build investigators’ capacity to carry out high-quality STEM education research in the core areas of STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.