NSF RET: Biomechanics from molecular to organismal scales

Welcome to the  Research Experience for Teachers web site for our program at Virginia Tech.

We are announcing a new opportunity for STEM high school teachers to conduct research at Virginia Tech in the summer of 2017. The core of this NSF-sponsored program is an intensive 6-week summer research experience in a biomechanics lab. This is followed by continuing interaction with the lab and the program throughout the academic year. In addition to conducting original research, teachers will develop new educational material to supplement their home classrooms.

Program dates: June 19—July 29, 2017*

Location: Campus of Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Hours: Full-time**

Stipend: $6,000 plus full room and board, and travel to and from VT

*We are able to make accommodations for teachers whose school calendars overlap with our program dates.

**Local teachers are not required to be housed on campus or to stay over the weekend.

Sample research areas: animal locomotion (e.g., frog jumping), internal flow production in insects, bio-inspired robotics, swarming, soft tissue mechanics, tissue engineering, bat echolocation, human sports biomechanics, microfluidics, mechanics of drinking, and more!


To apply, send the following by email to Dr. Jake Socha (jjsocha at vt dot edu) in a single pdf if possible:

1) Cover letter.  Include your motivation for doing research in the area of biomechanics, your previous research experience (if any), and information about your current position (i.e., what and where you teach, who your students are, etc.)

  1. 2)Resume/CV.

The deadline is February 25, 2017.

To download the recruiting poster as pdf, click here.

Detailed program description:

In this program, teachers will engage in original research in areas of biomechanics, ranging from the gliding locomotion of flying snakes to the design of highly efficient, biological ‘rubber’ materials, to human balance and fall prevention. A complete list of participating labs will be available soon.

Biomechanics is a field that aims to understand and explain the mechanical basis of biological processes in organisms from single-celled paramecia to humans. This field requires contributions from engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics with crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering. Teachers will be conducting fundamental interdisciplinary research while being exposed to broader applications that can be easily translatable to high school science and math students in ways that are compelling and exciting.

Each teacher will be paired on a one-to-one basis with a biomechanics research laboratory, conducting research and developing new educational material over six weeks in the summer. Teachers will be working alongside faculty and graduate students, developing new skills toward addressing specific biomechanics research questions using a hypothesis-driven approach. The partnership and interaction with the laboratory will continue throughout the following school year. Room, board, and stipend will be provided, with teachers housed on-site on the campus of Virginia Tech. During the summer research experience, teachers will develop a novel standards-conforming educational module to bring back to their home school, enriching their curricular activities. Teachers will qualify for professional development points that can be used toward fulfilling the requirements for license renewal with the approval of their school systems.


This program involves in-service high school STEM teachers. Our emphasis is on public school teachers from the Appalachian region of southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia, with a stated need of serving underresourced schools and underrepresented student populations. However, any high school teacher in the STEM area may apply.

Regular activities during the program:

On a daily basis, teachers will spend the majority of their time conducting research and developing and testing their research-based educational modules. 

Early in the program, teachers will begin to develop a novel educational module inspired by their research environment.  This development will be conducted concurrently with research, with the percentage of time devoted to the module increasing throughout the summer, with research ramping down.  The form of the module will be determined by the teacher to best suit the needs of their courses, students, and school.  Examples of module format include new labs, lessons, after-school activities, or any other mechanism that the teacher deems to be valuable and appropriate for advancing their educational goals.  Wherever possible, we will encourage active learning and inquiry-based approaches.  We will provide the teachers with the expertise that will help them integrate the educational content of the module with state SOLs (Standards of Learning).    

Teachers will test their modules with age-appropriate students via existing summer programs at Virginia Tech. These include the K-12 summer camps through the College of Engineering, such as C-Tech2, Imagination, and NASA INSPIRE. This will allow teachers to test an early draft of a module in week 5, assess its performance, and refine the module before taking the final product to their home classroom.