A high school physics teacher who spent three summers studying hydrogen fuel cells at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has been named one of the math and science teachers of the year by a White House panel.
Kristen Record, who teaches at Bunnell High School in Stratford, Conn., spent her summers in 2005, 2007 and 2008 at NREL in the DOE’s rigorous Academies Creating Teacher Scientists (ACTS) program.
Record worked with NREL Research Fellow John Turner investigating the conductivity of acid membranes for use in Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells her first two years. During her third summer, she built a test station that allowed her to rapidly synthesize various combinations of metal oxides for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Her work was part of the effort to find an efficient and stable material that can use sunlight directly to split water, a key step in making hydrogen generated from renewable energy economically feasible.
“She was incredibly enthusiastic about the research,” Turner said. “She’s a very motivated teacher and was a great asset while she was here. It certainly isn’t unexpected that she would receive such an honor. She’s an excellent teacher and scientist.”
The aim of the DOE program is to inspire a cadre of science and math teachers who can return to their schools and be a catalyst for both students and teachers, sparking an enthusiasm for energy research and science education, said Linda Lung, NREL’s education programs coordinator.
Record said her three summers at NREL were the best professional development experiences of her life. “I came back and completely reorganized my curriculum to integrate renewable energy and social issues in a way that made physics accessible and relevant to a lot more students,” she said. “In the lab, John made me feel like a real scientist. Since I’ve been back, I’ve taught workshops for my district’s science teachers.”
Record, who comes from a family of teachers, is one of the 103 science and math teachers nationwide who will be awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Each will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. They also receive an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony and several days of events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.
“Kristen is absolutely energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate about teaching,” Lung said. Each summer another six to 10 teachers join the ACTS program at NREL, she noted.
NREL is DOE’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.