INTERFACE Program Elements

Integrated Curriculum

Introduction to Modeling and Simulation.  Modeling and simulation will be an integral part of investigating the multi-scale phenomena from atomic and molecular scale (e.g. binding of peptide and protein to targeted surfaces) to macroscopic observables resulting from interface dynamics. Introduction to computational tools such as Molecular Dynamics (MD), Monte Carlo (MC), Cellular Automata (directed rule-based), Lattice Gas (Boltzmann, interacting, and its variants) to deal with particulates will be exposed via hand-on exercises. Setting up equations (e.g. Langevin for stochastic dynamics of particles) for growth and decay rates of aggregation and segregation and computational methods (finite difference, finite element, etc.) to study large-scale problem with desirable continuum characteristics will be introduced. Students will learn how to evaluate physical properties and the reliability of the large-scale synthetic data by analyzing a range of local (electron transfer for conductivity, binding profile of residues in a peptide, etc.) and global (structure factor, radius of gyration, flow rate, etc.) physical quantities. We will draw elements from five existing courses offered in our multi-disciplinary Ph.D. program in computational science (with emphasis in Physics, Math, and Computer Science) to develop a new course tailored to meet the materials-based visions of this NRT.  Course elements will be customized to address specific problems by incorporating appropriate details via coarse-graining that may involve knowledge-based interactions (e.g. derived from a large ensemble of growing protein structures in protein data banks), multi-scale simulation-based interactions, and laboratory measurements (e.g. vibrational spectra, NMR data, etc.).

Experimental and Computational Methodologies for Complex Interfaces.  Upon completion of the initial introduction course, NRT trainees will be immersed in a hands-on, laboratory-based lecture course taught by interdisciplinary faculty teams in POLY, CHEM, and PHYS with guest webinar lectures from researchers at national lab and industrial partners. The course will provide trainees with an introduction to fundamental aspects of surfaces and interfaces, including thermodynamics of interfaces, surface forces, wetting, adsorption, surface modification and characterization, among others.  The course will exploit the pedagogical model of the “flipped classroom”, wherein lectures, recorded by faculty in an online format, will be viewed by students outside of class, while in-class time will be devoted to team-based (i.e. trainees primarily interested in EXP will be paired with trainees primarily interested in COMP) hands-on experimental and computational laboratory techniques.  These labs will introduce trainees to techniques for imaging (e.g atomic force microscopy), manipulating (e.g. chemical modification), and modeling (e.g. computer simulations of interface growth, binding of protein to surface, deposition of polymer to a substrate using MD and MC methods) complex interfaces. Each project-based lab will require students to complete an experiment and a complimentary simulation. 

Seminar: Forging Frontiers in Complex Interfaces.  The abilities to think critically and to critically analyze current scientific literature are important skills for any science and engineering career path.  This seminar course will provide an informal, interactive environment for trainees and faculty to analyze and debate trending topics in complex interface literature.  Each session will involve a “frontiers” virtual (e.g. Skype) seminar delivered monthly by an invited speaker.  Following each seminar, trainees in two-person teams (1 COMP and 1 EXP) will select a “hot” article in the speaker’s area of expertise, and lead the group in discussion and critical analysis of the article.  Trainees will learn how to conduct thorough literature searches, prepare critical analyses, identify contradictory articles for debate, identify unaddressed challenges in complex interfaces, and ultimately propose experimental and computational pathways to address such challenges.   

Interdisciplinary Professional Workshops

At the launch of each new cohort of students, INTERFACE trainees and faculty will participate in a Summer Bootcamp, including a one-day teambuilding and leadership session led by a professional trainer off-campus.  The off-campus training session will be designed to identify individual leadership and communication styles and to provide participants with strategies for building synergies and overcoming challenges.  The Bootcamp will continue with a series of development workshops consisting of eight half-day sessions in project management and team tools delivered by Morgan (Co-PI) (built on her professional training at GE and Six Sigma Master Black Belt). Planned topics to address non-cognitive skills include: 1) Project Management 2) Problem Solving: Brainstorming and Root Cause Corrective Action 3) Conflict Resolution, and 4) High Performance Teams.  Bootcamp workshops will have two sessions. The first will provide training and instruction around non-cognitive skills and students are given homework. The second is a working session in which student products are reviewed and discussed. Other workshops completed over thoughout the INTERFACE program include 1) Internship Preparation, 2) Business Etiquette, 3) CV/Resume Development, 4) Beginning the Job Search, and 5) Interview Skills. In the second year, workshops in 1) K-12 Activities and 2) Science Café will be presented.

Communication Skills Workshops

Oral Communication. Arguably the most important requirement for attaining desired interdisciplinary research outcomes and success in post-doctoral careers is the ability to communicate effectively across disciplines and to those with different levels of technical knowledge.  A series of workshops and training activities targeted at improving communication skills has been developed as part of our NSF GK12: Molecules to Muscles graduate fellowship program at USM which will be adapted for the NRT trainees.  The Sharing Science workshop, developed in collaboration with the Prof. Wendy Atkins-Sayre of the USM Speaking Center [Atkins-Sayre, W., Yook, E.L, Communication Centers and Oral Communication Programs in Higher Education: Advantages, Challenges and New Directions. Lexington Books: Langham, Maryland, 2012] is currently available to all graduate students in the college of science and technology. In this two-day session, fellows obtain foundational training and one-on-one coaching from communications specialists in (1) audience analysis, (2) PowerPoint development, (3) presentation outlining, and (4) style and delivery. The workshop is designed to allow fellows to “learn by doing,” through a series of experiences targeted at different audiences and using different delivery vehicles.  Presentations are recorded, and the students review their presentations with a coach to identify areas for improvement.  On the last day of the workshop participants deliver a research presentation targeted specifically for a non-scientific audience.

Written Communication – Proposal Development.  The ability to effectively communicate ideas and results in a written format is a critical skill for a successful graduate career (manuscripts, fellowship applications, etc.) and for any scientific career path – be it industry, government, or academia.  A polymer science graduate student recently commented “we are expected to be excellent writers and develop original research proposals, but we are provided minimal opportunities for formal training in these science writing skill sets.”  This comment highlights the discontinuity between “expected” knowledge and “provided” support. INTERFACE will address these knowledge deficits by offering a series of monthly writing workshops, led by the PIs and core participants, on topics including “Manuscript Development” and “Technical Writing – From Industrial Whitepapers to NSF Proposals”. Trainees will also learn how to write for the non-scientific audience by developing press releases related to their research progress for Southern Miss NOW (USM’s official news outlet directed by the University Communications Office).

INTERFACE Seed Funding   INTERFACE will introduce a “seed” incentive program open to NRT trainees and program participants.  Annually, we will invite short NSF-style proposals (3-5 pages) for seed funding of cross-cutting research ideas that integrate computational and experimental approaches for 1) materials design or 2) instructional design.  Ideally, these proposals will align with students’ dissertation directions and overlap the NRT research thrusts to foster collaboration among USM researchers.  Upon review of the proposals by the Executive Committee, Faculty Participants, and members of the External Advisory Committee, students will be provided formal NSF-style reviewer comments and a funding recommendation.  Proposals selected for funding will be funded up to $20,000 for one year.

Career Path Experiences

Studies have indicated that graduate students often do not have sufficient information on the full range of career opportunities available to them, and may not receive the training necessary to obtain employment in their chosen field. INTERFACE will offer career focused seminars exposing our graduate students to additional USM STEM faculty, industry scientists, government lab experts, and alumni on career possibilities as well as some technical hints about job searching. NRT trainees will also have internship opportunities with one of our national lab partners, industrial partners, government offices, or academic institution.  Internship experiences are designed to expose trainees to multiple research facilities and environments, as well as the diverse research-related career paths to expand their network and improve professional opportunities upon completion. The objectives for our internship experiences are to fully integrate graduate coursework within top ranked research laboratory environments and expand students’ research experiences via meaningful career path extensions in industry, government, and educational settings. With these aims in mind, four experiences have been designed:

(1) The National Lab Internship will place trainees in the laboratories of our external national lab partners (LANL, NIST, ORNL) for short-term appointments. Trainees will be fully immersed in either computational  or experimental training in complex interfaces, while experiencing the dynamic, collaborative nature of the national lab research environment.

(2) The Private Enterprise Internship will be designed around the successful model implemented in USM’s NSF-sponsored Partnership for Innovation grant (PI: Lochhead; Co-PIs Patton and Morgan), where partner companies host graduate students for short-term summer internships.

(3) The Government Policy Internship will immerse trainees into the state of Mississippi’s executive/legislative offices in Jackson, or in congressional offices in Washington D.C. for immersion in legislative procedures and science policymaking. 

(4) The Academia Internship will build on the School of Polymers existing Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program (GAANN) by providing trainees an opportunity to teach units relevant to interdisciplinary research in core undergraduate courses in their home departments, and to develop hands-on activities and curricula related to their research for implementation in local schools (using our GK-12 platform).  An alternate pathway for the academia internship will provide trainees an opportunity to gain experience and expertise in a collaborative academic research lab at other universities.