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Teen Science Cafe: Materials Science Murder Mystery

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 @ 6:30 PM-8:30 PM


University of Missouri – St. Louis South Campus
Provincial House, Pierre Laclede Honors College (PH HC at E-12 on Campus Map)
Museum Room
East Drive, St. Louis, MO 63121 United States + Google Map

Important information on campus parking, required permit, and cafe location sent with registration.

REGISTRATION REQUIRED. FREE and OPEN to Junior Academy of Science members and all middle and high school students in grades 6-12 from throughout the region. PRE-REGISTRATION for Junior Academy members ONLY thru Friday, July 26. General registration opens Saturday, July 27. Register below!

To join the Junior Academy of Science, or to find out more about the benefits of membership in the Junior Academy, click here.


6:30 pm – 7:00 pm: Dinner and Icebreaker

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Presentation & Activities

Featured Cafe Presenters: Andrew Hoffman and Seth Kilby, graduate students, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Everything in our lives is made of some type of material, whether it be cement walls, steel for our cars, glass windows, rubber soles for shoes, or plastic containers. Often, however, we overlook the work it took to come up with materials for each application. Scientists often spend decades developing new materials for spacecraft, large buildings, or making your bed more comfy to sleep on. In this interactive teen cafe on Materials Science, we’ll discuss what the field of materials science actually is, look at how we can go from the atomic scale to a finished product, and explore one important aspect of materials science in particular, which is studying why materials fail. This takes a little detective work, and we will put your skills to the test. Can you use the information and tools available to scientists to find out why a material failed, and what you could recommend to prevent this from happening again?


Andrew Hoffman
My name is Andrew Hoffman, I grew up in Charlottesville, VA where I was actually home-schooled for a good portion of my childhood until high school. My mom, who had a Master’s degree specializing in genetics, tried to encourage me and my siblings to gain an appreciation for nature and questioning the world around us. I knew I wanted a PhD from the time I was 6, and as nerdy as it sounds, I spent a lot of my time as a kid playing with test tubes imagining I was working in a chemistry lab. Because of my mom, I was inspired to be a scientist and until high school I always wanted to go into a field related to biochemistry. When I started taking high school physics classes I realized that the questions I had in all my other classes could finally be answered. So I decided I would study physics in college.

I completed my undergraduate at Brigham Young University where I switched between several majors including biochemistry, computer science, and then eventually I came full circle back to physics. I loved how physics could delve very deep into the mysteries of nature, and I loved having a very fundamental understanding of why things behaved the way they did. The more I studied, the deeper I wanted to go, which led me to doing undergraduate research in nuclear physics. My research focused on the development of neutron detectors for homeland security applications (trying to detect nuclear materials being smuggled into the US). While I didn’t know much at the time, and probably wasn’t the best researcher, my experience in the lab helped me gain a better appreciation for how complex and involved research can be and how much it takes a whole team with many specialties to realize even smaller projects.

I started graduate school at Idaho State University where I wanted to work on a similar project to my undergraduate research. ISU’s physics department specialized in particle accelerator research, and I soon got involved in a few projects working with high energy electron beams. Again, I was overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes into each piece of equipment and every experiment. My Master’s thesis focused on the study of plasmas by studying the behavior of wires in the few nanoseconds that they explode when very high currents are applied. This is known as a “pinching” mechanism, as the very high change in current causes a magnetic pressure on the wire which heats it up and eventually the wire becomes a plasma. Other research I worked on included creating exotic x-ray sources by shooting a laser into an electron beam. What I loved about all my research are the applications they could be used for which included: fusion power, homeland security, non-destructive materials assay, and so much more.

For my PhD I decided I wanted to delve further into the nuclear field so I decided to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering. My initial PhD research involved working with Idaho National Laboratory helping their reactor engineering team with the restart of the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT as they call it). While my work was not glamorous, it was fun to be able to be involved in a fairly monumental undertaking of restarting a reactor after decades of having been shut down. I realized that my research there was mostly involved in computer programming and I preferred something more hands on, so when I saw my PhD adviser give a seminar on nuclear materials it sparked my interest. In his presentation he showed some results of a technique called atom probe tomography in which we can almost, atom for atom, reconstruct small samples and gain valuable insights into the small scale chemistry of materials. That was what got me hooked, and now my research focuses developing advanced steels and alloys as well characterizing ceramic materials for applications in a nuclear environment. I love materials science because of the broad background of knowledge required. I took so many different classes in college, and now I was able to use them! Especially chemistry and physics.

While materials scientists focus on the materials that we study, the vast amount of instruments and experiments we conduct involve a very in depth knowledge of all the physical sciences and several fields of engineering to fully understand how to better develop new materials. I am finishing my PhD this year, and afterwards I will be working for a lab that specializes in the design of nuclear reactors. In particular my work will involve trying to prevent corrosion on metals used in the reactor.

Many people think scientists are boring nerdy people, and to be honest that is sometimes the case, but most of us are just normal people that have a fascination with the world around us. My personal hobbies including hiking, kayaking, golf, snowboarding, hunting (though I’m not good at it), and like many of you, I like to play the occasional video game when I have the time. Though I rarely use it, for a while a friend got me into amateur radio and I do have an FCC license. Many of the guys from my research group go out every Thursday for karaoke, and we find time outside our work to just have fun and socialize. If there is one thing that I have learned throughout my life that helps make everything better, it is to just be yourself. Even in my research I am sometimes goofy, we laugh a lot, I make mistakes, say dumb things sometimes, and in the end we are all just there to help each other and better ourselves and our work. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, be OK with making mistakes, and pursue your dreams even if they change. No one can truly tell you what your passion is but you. I never foresaw myself doing the work I am doing now, and to be completely honest I couldn’t be happier.

Seth Kilby
My name is Seth Kilby. I grew up in the town of Chatham, Illinois which is near the capital, Springfield. I, like most others, attended public school for all of my primary education. Growing up I went through a lot of different career interests. When I was a young child, I wanted to be a train conductor due to my fascination with trains (I had an electric LEGO train set). Then as I grew older I wanted to be an astronomer, because I had a strange obsession with the planet Saturn and its rings. When I started high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got older. I struggled to find an identity my first year until I joined speech, debate, and theatre. I met some really incredible mentors that helped give direction to a directionless kid. As I got older, I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn’t know which kind. I eventually settled on nuclear, because I was interested in something that I knew nothing about.

I went to Missouri S&T for my undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering where I graduated magna cum laude. I was fortunate enough to know exactly what I wanted to study and learn, and I was active throughout college in organizations and design teams. Throughout my undergraduate career I had the opportunity to work with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency as a regulator, and I worked for a company called FRAMATOME as a reactor core engineer.  I was offered two full time jobs out in Idaho and Washington. I turned both of those down to pursue even more education, because that is my passion in life.

I started out studying ways for the US to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and materials through the use of technology; however, I didn’t feel as though I had a direction. I eventually found a project that really excited me. It was a project to design a system that could look within nuclear fuel by using radiation for Idaho National Laboratory. This system is designed  to understand what happens to nuclear material when used in a nuclear reactor. While often times unglamorous, the work is important as this would be a first of its kind system in the United States. However, there is a lot of pressure to finish this since there are many researchers that are looking forward to utilizing our system.

STEM people are not all boring though. We have our hobbies, mine just tend to be a little less conventional. I really feel at home on a stage performing for audiences. Acting and singing have always been my escapes from reality. I also enjoy a good debate, because I was trained in making arguments and fighting people with logic (This gets me into trouble with friends). I enjoy a good hike in the mountains or staring at vast oceanic expanse in the pacific northwest. My favorite moments though are spent with my group of friends at game nights or on campus. Friends are probably the most important commodity in college as they keep you sane.

I want to close by offering some words of encouragement to, you, the readers. Don’t let people define your value or worth. Don’t let people tell you what is and isn’t possible. We aren’t born to live ignorant of the world around us. We are born to explore, to learn, and to find meaning in our lives. I hope many of you will go and make wonderful contributions to our lives in scientific endeavors, art, music ,and culture. Wherever your paths may take you, be confident in your ability to create your future. Stay bold and stay hungry.

For the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings I leave you with a quote from President Kennedy.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

– John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States.


Materials Science Murder Mystery Teen Science Cafe an Academy of Science – St. Louis STEM Teens Experience in partnership with Missouri University of Science & Technology and the University of Missouri – St. Louis Pierre Laclede Honors College. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2019
6:30 PM-8:30 PM
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