07/06/2010 02:28 pm

Microsoft Research has announced a $100,000 gift to Florida State University to help a Nobel laureate bring science into classrooms around the world by using the Internet.

The Nobel laureate is Sir Harold Kroto, Florida State's Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry. "The gift is a great indicator that Microsoft aims to encourage the development of new approaches to education in the 21st century," said Kroto.

kroto geo

Harold Kroto

Kroto and colleagues at Florida State have created GEOSET, which stands for Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering, and Technology. GEOSET uses digital tools such as video, photos, graphics, and PowerPoint-to offer what Kroto calls "curriculum-focused modular concept presentations" free over the Internet.

"This gift from Microsoft has come as tremendous encouragement for our GEOSET initiative, which is a component of the [Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] program here at FSU," Kroto said.

Kroto explains how the Microsoft gift came about. "Over the last year we had been in discussions with Microsoft over the development of free software that will enable us to achieve our educational outreach aims when the gift came 'out of the blue,'" Kroto said. "It will help to ensure the success of our primary aim of helping teachers, all over the world, to gain access to the global cache of knowledge in a format that facilitates classroom education. Furthermore, it will also benefit FSU students directly by making evidence of their intellectual abilities accessible via the Internet."

How does GEOSET work?
Using GEOSET, an elementary school teacher in New Zealand, for instance, can create a lesson quickly by downloading the components needed to most effectively illustrate specific issues, and she could stream the presentation directly into her classroom. In general, most of the GEOSET presentations use a split screen with a video appearing on the left side of the screen and the speaker's slides appearing on the right. For viewers, it's like being able to watch your teacher do an experiment and, simultaneously, being able to watch her slide show, too.

For example, the teacher could introduce her students to the chemistry concepts of acids and bases by showing them a GEOSET presentation about "invisible ink" made from lemon juice. This particular presentation, featuring GEOSET team member and chemist Steve Acquah, shows Acquah on the left side of the screen explaining the experiment as he does it. Meanwhile, students see a slide show on the other side of the screen. One of the slides, for example, lists ingredients needed to do the experiment. Ostensibly, students are getting an elementary chemistry lesson, but there's an underlying message, too, which is that science is fun, with Acquah hamming it up brilliantly as a detective who decodes a secret message. Another presentation features an Olympic-caliber runner who has asthma, and a world-class biochemist who is researching new breathing treatments to try to help the runner.

Although the two previous examples are very specific, GEOSET spans several of the science and math disciplines, including engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science, geology, health, biology, and environmental science to name a few. And within those disciplines are a range of specialized topics. As you might expect from a site created by someone who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry, it holds a treasure trove of chemistry-related presentations: crystallography, catalysts, carbon nanotubes, batteries, polymers, chemical equations. But there are specialized modules in the other disciplines, too.

While teachers and students can find presentations organized by topics, the presentations are also organized by audience and age level, making it easy for teachers to find just the right level of technical depth for their students. Using lists on the GEOSET website, teachers can easily see who gave the presentation, when it was recorded, and how long it lasts. Some presentations are as short as two minutes, while others are longer than an hour.

The gateway site is at and the local FSU site at

Impacts of GEOSET
"The GEOSET initiative turns the whole strategy of the way teaching material is created on its head," said Kroto, "by focusing on our best teachers and amassing a globally accessible cache consisting of the tried-and-tested approaches to the teaching of specific concepts developed by our best educators."

As news of GEOSET spreads, more universities and scientists are partnering with the site. Sister sites have already been set up in the United Kingdom and Japan, and now that the Microsoft software is freely available, Kroto's scientific counterparts around the world will be able to join the initiative at a much lower cost than previously possible.

While GEOSET is a groundbreaking educational tool for teachers, it has had an unexpected bonus. Students who have given presentations say it has led to scholarships and job offers. For example, Florida State alumna Prajna Dhar found that her GEOSET presentation led to a postdoctoral fellowship and ultimately four tenure-track job offers. "The university whose offer she has accepted commented that GEOSET indicated she could teach," Kroto said. Another student, Artrease Spann, won a Florida Gubernatorial Scholarship and was told at her interview how much the committee enjoyed her GEOSET presentation. And chemistry doctoral student Kerry Gilmore, winner of a Fulbright scholarship for 2010-2011, included his GEOSET presentation in his application.

Kroto is proud of his team and is happy to use his scientific reputation to promote his GEOSET initiative and science education in general. "I came here because FSU was keen to support both my research and educational aims," Kroto said, "and the major value of the Nobel Prize has been the way it has enabled me to open doors that can lead to success in exploring the way that the Internet can improve the level of general education."

Kroto is a veteran of using media technology to promote science education, having jointly established the Vega Science Trust in 1995, an organization that creates broadcast programs for television and the Internet. You can learn more about the Vega Trust at

Kroto won the Nobel Prize in 1996 along with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley for the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, a new kind of carbon molecule. Born in England and knighted in 1996, Kroto has been a member of the faculty at Florida State University since 2004. Colleagues involved with GEOSET at FSU include Steve Acquah, Colin Byfleet, Penny Gilmer, Sam Rustan, Helena Safron, and Dave Simpson.


Article published originally published here:

Legacy Sort
Legacy Priority