DOE Pulse
  • Number 436  |
  • April 6, 2015

Berkeley Lab researcher will bicycle across the country for science

Berkeley Lab research associate Rachel Woods-Robinson.

Berkeley Lab research associate
Rachel Woods-Robinson.

What started off as a joke between two undergraduate physics students will soon culminate in an ambitious endeavor called Cycle for Science, a two-woman cycling and science education team that will traverse the U.S. starting April 17. Berkeley Lab research associate Rachel Woods-Robinson and science journalist Elizabeth Case will visit middle schools across the country, teaching fun science lessons and profiling science teachers, all while serving as female role models with the hope of attracting girls to science.

Woods-Robinson and Case met at UCLA and often joked when their physics classes got tough that they should just throw in the towel and bicycle across the country. But they finished their degrees, and Woods-Robinson joined Berkeley Lab as a research associate in the Materials Science Division last March. She’s been working on synthesis and characterization of p-type transparent conducting materials, which can be used in solar cells and optoelectronics. Case is a science journalist in Davis who plans to start her PhD in engineering in the fall.

They both have experience teaching and tutoring, as well as designing and organizing science education and outreach programs. As part of Cycle for Science they also plan to gather innovative STEM lesson plans from the schools they visit to create a small repository of teaching resources.

“We thought it would be interesting to see what science education is like in cities around the country,” says Woods-Robinson. She and Case plan to visit at least 10 middle schools over the course of their three-month journey. “I’ve been lucky to have had great science teachers throughout my education in California, but I know that’s not the case everywhere.”

Central to their project is the Sol Cycle, a miniature, 3D-printable, solar-powered bicycle they’re creating that they’ll use as a hands-on adjunct to their physics and renewable energy lessons, which they’re developing in conjunction with Berkeley-based nonprofit Community Resources for Science (CRS). They’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to help with manufacturing costs for the Sol Cycle. Although they’ve reached their fundraising goal $6,000, the campaign is open for another week, and they say additional funds will be used for donating Sol Cycle kits and other educational materials to classrooms they visit.

Once they finish prototyping they’ll release the file for anyone to 3D-print. “We think a hands-on lesson like this one will help highlight the creative, purposeful, and relevant aspects of science,” says Woods-Robinson.

Woods-Robinson’s passion for science education is clear. This year she’s been working with 7th graders at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley through Be a Scientist, a CRS science lab outreach program, and volunteering with BASIS (Bay Area Scientists in Schools), which brings scientists from UC Berkeley into elementary and middle schools to teach interactive, hands-on lessons.

As their funding site says: “Diversity and engagement are two of the most pressing issues in science education. We don’t think we can solve these problems (at least not yet!) but we hope this trip will spark conversations, inspire a few kids to become scientists, and create lasting resources for educators to use in their classrooms.”

The women plan to update their blog regularly as their journey begins. You can learn more and follow Cycle for Science at:

–Keri Troutman

Submitted by DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory