The Steppingstone MAgnetic Resonance Training (SMART) Center is a fusion of educational methodology and scientific instrumentation. For 30 years, Steppingstone Center for Gifted Education has educated gifted children using best practices often in advance of, but supported by, educational research. In brief, this methodology (the Akaba method) teaches gifted children by challenging them at their academic level(s) of expertise while maintaining them in a social environment of developmental peers.
The SMART Center, conceived by Dr. Philip D. "Reef" Morse II (formerly Professor of Chemistry at Illinois State University), Dr. Art Heiss of Bruker Bio-Spin and Kiyo Morse, Head of Steppingstone School, provides training and access to a Bruker ESP300 electron spin resonance spectrometer for students from middle school through college undergraduate. Students participate in 24 hours of training during which time they learn about resonance, spectroscopy, instrument usage, obtaining and analyzing data and the basics of experimental design. Most important, students learn to ask questions in such a way that they can obtain answers. Once they have completed the training course, they have self-directed access to the laboratory and instrumentation where they can pursue their research ideas and, ultimately, present their research not only to other students but also to the scientific community.
Usually when a student works in a research laboratory, she or he is working on a project chosen by the professor or chief of research. At the SMART Center, it is the student who develops the ideas and, with the help of trained personnel (Dr. Morse), develops her or his own project goals. In short, the professor truly mentors the student.
In its first summer of operation, the SMART Center received one hundred thirty-six applications from highly qualified and eager students for forty-five positions available for its summer ‘09 pilot programs. This pilot program was funded primarily by a grant from the Toyota Tapestry Foundation. The funds paid for equipment and supplies; the staff worked as unpaid volunteers. Current funding comes from tuition fees of $300 for the training sessions and $400 for up to 16 laboratory sessions.
The SMART Center motto, "Exciting the Next Generation of Scientists," is not only a play on words that describes resonance processes, it is the ultimate purpose for its existence.