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RTNN Wins 2024 Opal Mann Green Engagement and Scholarship Award

Editor’s note: Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor of Science Education Gail Jones is a partner on on this project.

The Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network (RTNN) has been honored with the prestigious 2024 Opal Mann Green Engagement and Scholarship Award at NC State University. The award ceremony, scheduled for April 29 at the Park Alumni Center, will recognize RTNN’s outstanding contributions to nanotechnology research, education, and community engagement.

The Opal Mann Award, established in 2010 to honor the leadership of former NC State faculty member Dr. Opal Mann Green, is given annually to recognize a team dedicated to using democracy in the classroom, community, and at home; creating inclusionary teams; and community-based learning around local issues.

Founded on the principles of the Kellogg Commission Engagement Seven-Part Test, RTNN emerged from collaborative efforts between NC State University, Duke University, and UNC-Chapel Hill in response to a National Science Foundation (NSF) call for proposals in 2014. Instead of competing individually, these institutions united to create a collaborative “Site” within the national university nanotechnology network, demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity and responsiveness to national needs.

The NC State Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) is well represented in RTNN. Led by Kobe Steel Distinguished Professor Jacob Jones, Professor Nina Balke, and Phillip Strader, RTNN’s collaborative approach allows for comprehensive resources that support diverse areas of nanotechnology research, including microelectronics, quantum materials, fiber and textile science, agriculture, and social science. Unlike other sites with specialized focuses, RTNN’s broad capabilities cater to both traditional and non-traditional nano-researchers.

In addition to MSE, the project is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary, extending across the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Education, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the NC State Core Facilities including the Analytical Instrumentation Facility (AIF), NC State Nanofabrication Facility (NNF), Duke University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. 

“This award means so much to us,’” said Jones. “Of any awards we could receive, we are so excited and incredibly proud and honored to receive this particular award. There are many awards for research and education, but fewer for engagement. Yet engagement is so critical to the university. The team award is based on values that we take to heart— democracy in the community, inclusionary teams, and community-based learning. Over the past eight years, in all of the RTNN’s engagement activities, we’ve reached diverse and broad audiences with desktop electron microscopes and demonstrations, a massive open online course on nanotechnology, educating teachers in nanotechnology research during the summer, and interviewing and conducting social science research on external users (e.g., industry users of university facilities).” 

“Of any awards we could receive, we are so excited and incredibly proud and honored to receive this particular award. There are many awards for research and education, but fewer for engagement. Yet engagement is so critical to the university.” Jacob Jones

The network’s goals center on enhancing accessibility to nanotechnology resources by lowering barriers such as distance, cost, and awareness. Through educational outreach programs, RTNN prepares students for STEM careers, hosts training workshops, and serves as a hub for nanotechnology networking.
RTNN serves as a portal to physical resources in the Research Triangle and intellectual resources by leveraging the expertise of more than 100 principal faculty and over 45 technical staff members across three constituent universities and nine core-shared user facilities.

RTNN’s impact extends beyond research facilities. The network collaborates with community colleges, museums, and libraries to promote awareness and engagement with nanotechnology. Programs like the RTNN Kickstarter Program and “Nanotechnology, A Maker’s Course” on Coursera aim to educate and attract new users by offering initial free access and online courses.

RTNN trains high-quality leaders in many ways. The annual Research Experience for Teachers takes place every summer and is aimed at continuing education for middle and high school teachers as well as community college instructors. Also during the summer is the Research Experience for Undergraduates, where selected students from all over the country participate in a 12-week program allowing them access to facilities and labs at NC State, Duke University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. 

In addition to its educational efforts, RTNN conducts social science research to improve user experiences and inform program development. The network’s commitment to engagement is evident in initiatives like the Community College Internship Program, which provides laboratory experience to community college students seeking to transfer to RTNN institutions.

RTNN’s innovative programs and partnerships exemplify a commitment to democratizing university resources and advancing nanotechnology education and research. The Opal Mann Green Engagement and Scholarship Award recognizes RTNN’s exceptional contributions to the field and its dedication to fostering collaboration and accessibility in nanotechnology.


The annual Opal Green Awards will open for 2025 nominations later this year. Learn more about the submission guidelines, evaluation criteria, and past winners on their website


This story originally appeared on the Department of Materials Science and Engineering website.