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Excited students observe solar panels brought from ClearLoop.

UT Research Centers Collaborate to Share Adventures in STEM for Area Middle-Schoolers

A group of potential Engineering Vols from Knoxville area middle-schools enjoyed an array of STEM-related activities in July through a UT Knoxville collaboration between the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment (ISSE), and the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT).

The Adventures in STEM camp hosted seventh through ninth grade students for activities focused on ecology, biodiversity, electric circuitry, renewable energy, solar and wind power, and more. Generous financial support given to ISSE and CURENT from Emerson Electric and Emerson Process Management, Knoxville, along with additional support from NIMBioS, enabled centers to host this active learning experience.

Campers learned about real world applications and how science and technology might shape their future.

“Science can relate to a lot more things than I thought, like going outside and seeing the biodiversity of ecosystems, but also getting to learn more about the engineering and building part,” said Kevin, a rising eighth grader. “The camp helped me expand my definition of science.”

The camp included outdoor experiences led by Erin Canter from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Miller Callaway, from Webb School of Knoxville, led hands-on activities about circuits, magnetism, and electric motors.

The camp connected academic, industry, and community partners, including educators, STEM graduate students, public school teachers, and field experts. Kristen Mecke, NIMBioS project manager, and Professor Chien-fei Chen, director of Energy and Environmental Justice for ISSE, led organization with support from Callaway and Canter.

“Camps allow time for kids to investigate questions and explore subjects without the pressure of being graded, and things can be more ‘go with the flow,’” said Mecke.

“I think it is critical to expose children to these types of opportunities when they are still young, especially middle school aged students,” said Chen. “Early exposure to STEM education is the key to get the children interested.”

CURENT and NIMBioS hosted Adventures in STEM from 2013-2018, with additional support from ISSE this year, with the goal to reach more youth from local communities. This year’s camp was a welcome relaunch following the pause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information on upcoming events, visit

Photo Gallery

Students show off their solar cars built at CURENT.
Students observe the species they found while ponding at Ijams Nature Center.

Students engineer a device in a hands-on project.
Students gather outside of NIMBioS Monday morning for Organism Mystery activity.


Randall Brown (865-974-0533,