Wheeling High School is known regionally and nationally as a leader in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), a fact Gov. Pat Quinn reinforced on Tuesday when he visited the suburban school and called it an "epicenter" for developing technology.
The school hosted NANO Connect, a forum aimed at demystifying nanotechnology and showing how the science can be integrated into high school curriculums through collaboration among educators, industry partners, postsecondary institutions and government. Speakers included Quinn, U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, Northwestern University Professor Gayle Woloschak and WeonBae Ko, a chemistry professor at Sahmyook University in Seoul, South Korea.
Nanotechnology is the study of extremely small things -- one nanometer is a billionth of a meter -- and the application in fields including chemistry, biology, physics, material science and engineering. Speakers discussed ways nanotechnology can impact scientific discoveries from fighting cancer to building better electric cars.
According to a study funded by the National Science Foundation, six million nanotechnology workers will be needed worldwide by 2020, with two million of those jobs in the United States.
"Nanotechnology is here to stay and in Illinois we want to be the leaders," said Quinn, who added Wheeling Principal Laz Lopez is one of his heroes. Lopez was instrumental in creating the school's STEM curriculum.
Quinn joked that he only got a B in Physics when he was in school, but said he is proud of the hands-on learning approach to science and technology at schools like Wheeling.
"Learning while doing is the best way to retain knowledge," he said. "The most powerful force on Earth for equal opportunity is education and that's why we're all here."
The summit was a first for Wheeling High School, which started looking at how to integrate nanotechnology into the curriculum a few years ago and will start offering a class on the subject next fall, according to school officials.
"We need to continue to be trailblazers and this sets us up to be able to provide our students with the best support possible," said Superintendent David Schuler.
Students listened to the main NANO Connect presenters in the morning and gave their own presentations to other students in the afternoon, said Nancy Heintz, division head for math and science. Student presentations focused on practical, hands-on applications of nanotechnology.
"We're giving students an insight into something that's an emerging technology," said Heintz. "This is something that will be influential for them for the rest of their lives."