International Research Experience for Students (IRES) Project Proposal: Population Dynamics and Complex Systems: Challenges and Opportunities

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center (Levin Center) at Arizona State University (ASU) is seeking supplemental funding to support its graduate student for FY 2016 to develop femtosatellites (femtosats) as a STEM project-based learning activity for underserved, public secondary schools in Latin America (Project). We believe that the Project aligns with Activity 2 in EHRs Summary of Opportunity in this DCL for research and development activities to test novel approaches for improving the engagement of K-12 or undergraduate students in authentic, career-relevant experiences. The Project will allow our US graduate student a unique opportunity to broaden his career skills, opportunities and network at the intersection of STEM education, international development, science diplomacy, systems and design engineering.

In April 2016, the ASU Space and Terrestrial Robotic and Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory announced its SunCube FemtoSat program [1] [2]. Femtosats are miniature, fully functioning satellites that weigh 100 g or less. Inspired by the success of the open standard cube satellite (cubesat) program launched in 1999 [3], SpaceTREx researchers developed an open standard femtosat design, where the satellite body is a cube with 3 cm sides and weighs about 35 g [4]. Currently, launch and launch-integration costs for satellites are about $60,000 to $70,000 per kilogram. SpaceTREx estimates that the SunCube will have a unit cost of about $300 or less, and a launch cost of about $1,000 to deploy to the International Space Station, or about $3,000 to deploy in a low-Earth orbit at current prices [5]. In comparison, a SpaceTREx (3-unit) cubesat that will launch in Fall 2017 will cost about $50,000 for parts and have a launch cost of about $300,000. Given its low cost, STEM education is a key market for SunCubes. Comparable to the successful SeaPerch underwater robotics program [6], SpaceTREx believes that SunCubes will be the space equivalent vehicle for STEM project-based learning.

Broader Impacts
The long-term goal of the Project is to develop SunCubes as a STEM project-based learning activity for underserved, public secondary schools in Latin America. However, a key challenge in doing so is the quality of STEM teachers in the region. According to a 2015 World Bank Latin American Development Forum report, a key constraint in improving K-12 education in Latin America is the low average quality of [Latin American] teachers... and their weak mastery of academic content as well as ineffective classroom practice. [6]. Hence, the first near-term goal of the Project is to train teachers on the SunCube program to ensure that they are capable academically and pedagogically to implement the program at their schools. By doing do, the Project will enhance the professional development of STEM teachers in the region. Since the Project will focus on underserved, public secondary schools, many of the student beneficiaries of the SunCubes will be from underrepresented groups, or economically disadvantaged families. We believe that the Project can be a model for STEM education, science diplomacy and international development in Latin America.

Enhanced Experience
The graduate student will relocate from Arizona to Bogota, Colombia for the 2016 - 2017 academic year to work with STEM education researchers at Universidad de los Andes (Uniandes) to develop materials to train teachers on implementing SunCubes as a project-based learning activity. Uniandes is the host institution in our IRES award. Among other things, the graduate student will work with Uniandes to develop possible (STEM education) mission payloads for the SunCube, SunCube teaching resources and lesson plans, and a beta version of a SunCube resources website (comparable to the SeaPerch website [7]).

For the 2017 - 2018 academic year, the graduate student will return to ASU to complete and defend his PhD dissertation. Contingent on funding, the graduate student hopes to work with Uniandes on a test rollout of the SunCube teacher training program at two public secondary schools in Colombia.


IRES: Population Dynamics and Complex Systems: Challenges and Opportunities Host Institutions: Arizona State University (ASU), Centro de Investigacin en Matemticas (CIMAT), Mexico, Universidad de Los Andes (UA), Colombia, and Universidad de Colima (UC), Mexico. The IRES program proposed by the Mathematical Computational and Modeling Sciences Center (MCMSC) at ASU will target graduate students enrolled in an advance degree program in the mathematical sciences and graduating seniors accepted in a Ph.D. or M.S. program at a US Institution. Recruitment will put emphasis primarily but not exclusively on US underrepresented groups in mathematics. A PI with a proven track record of research, international collaborations, and mentoring underrepresented minorities (URMs) through the collaborative known as the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute or MTBI, which was just awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM 20011). The three co-PIs, MTBI alumni and URMs (two males and one female), have strong research programs at the interphase of the computational, mathematical, and biological sciences and deep ties to Latin America and Latin American Scientists. Intellectual Merit. In the NAS report Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III et al. observe that Historically, there has been a strong connection between increasing educational attainment in the United States and [economic growth and global leadership] while documenting the failure of universities to include US Underrepresented Minorities (US-URMs) in STEM. The near absence of U.S. Minorities in positions leadership guarantees that the tsunami of demographic changes taking place at American institutions will lack role models that can systematically attract students into the mathematical sciences, a situation our a nation cannot afford. Mathematical sciences leadership demands global recognition and that comes, in part, from international experiences and collaborations. This MCMSCs IRES provides opportunities for 15 young Americans, over three years, to increase their research portfolio while developing close intellectual collaborative ties with successful scientists with overlapping cultural affinities. The uniqueness of the MCMSCs proposed international research experience arises from: (i) its focus in promoting and supporting interactions with excellent researchers from Mexico and Colombia, primarily engaged in collaborative trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research at the interphase of the computational, mathematical, biological and social sciences; (ii) the personal assistance of a dedicated group of first-rate researchers with documented records of research at the interphase of complex systems and population dynamics; and (iii) the opportunity for expanding the MCMSC international connections and collaborations with an established researcher/mentor pool of first-rate Latin American mathematical scientists committed to building and expanding research programs in partnership with the MCMSC-ASU network of researchers in ecology, the ecology of infectious diseases, disease and sustainability. Broader Impacts MCMSCs IRES model will increase the number of US URMs in the mathematical sciences involved in international research efforts; magnify the level of collaboration among Colombian (UA), Mexican (CIMAT and UC), and ASU researchers. MCMSCs successful interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research through mentorship model moved ASU from graduating one US-URM every 20 years in the mathematical sciences to the leading producer of US Hispanic Ph.Ds., according to 2011 figures published in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. The MCMSCs IRES will recruit from MTBI alumni generating a unique research platform where students can learn the ropes of international collaborations under mentors with overlapping cultural backgrounds. MTBI alumni, a group of over 400 (216 currently in graduate school), have earned 91 PhDs, 77 US and 61 URMs (mostly in mathematical biology). This extraordinary growing pool of mathematicians interested in applications will be used to recruit potential participants. Nearly 50% of the Latin American researchers involved in this proposal have been mentored as students at MTBI (14 international PhDs since 2005) or participated as faculty, often multiple times, in MTBIs 17 old program of summer research institute for graduate and undergraduate students and faculty with limited access to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research.
Effective start/end date10/1/139/30/17


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $209,168.00


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