Sensing Our World

A week-long, all-day summer science camp for students aged 11 to 14.

Educational Links
for Younger Students

  SOW 2009
  SOW 2008
  SOW 2007
  SOW 2006
  SOW 2005

2010 Dates have not been determined due to renovations
in the Nuclear Structure Lab for the summer 2010

Camp Activities

In previous years, students learned about the scientific principles behind many sensors used in everyday life through hands-on activities. They learned how devices such as sound and motion detectors work, and they made electric circuits, built their own detectors and learned about polymers, cryogenics, and electrical generators.

The 2008 program was expanded to Sensing Our World in Color and, by incorporating optics, the students analyzed the mechanics we use to perceive color and how this knowledge is used by astrophysicists and engineers alike. We also touched on geological remote sensing, structural damage of earthquakes, as well as topics like understanding the sensory world of other species, sensory aspects of art and music, and cross-cultural/gender-specific sensory perceptions.

The theme for the 2009 program is Sensing Our World Go GreeND! Students learned about ecologically sound approaches to urban space, the physics of energy, how chemists are developing biodegradable alternatives to various consumer goods, environmental philosophy, and ecological adaptation.

It is likely that the environmental theme will continue in 2010. Classes will be held at the Notre Dame campus Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Activities include meeting with ND scientists to learn about their research and visits to several different academic departments and research labs on campus. We expect a large response to the summer camp.

Sensing Our World Instructors

Camp instructors include faculty, staff, and graduate students from Physics, Chemistry, Anthropology, Biological Sciences, Art & Art History, Music, and Engineering departments at ND, as well as a certified K-12 teacher.

Kevin Johnston is the lead instructor of the camp. Mr. Johnston is a high school physical science teacher in the Baugo Community Schools who earned his teaching certification at Purdue. The 2010 program will mark his fifth year as instructor for Sensing Our World, and he brings a wealth of classroom experience to the program.

Camp Sponsors

Sensing Our World Go GreeND! has been sponsored by the Joint Institute for Astrophysics (JINA), the Department of Physics, the Nuclear Structure Laboratory, NISMEC, Siemens Corporation, individual faculty members, and various research centers at the University of Notre Dame.

Future program dates have not yet been determined.


According to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report, U.S. school children start out at the same level as their international peers in elementary grades. However, they fall behind in science and math by the time they reach the middle grades. When they reach high school, they score below the international average. In response to this finding, Sensing Our World was designed to expose middle-school students to the exciting world of science, mathematics, and technology in an intensive hands-on environment.


The camp operates during five weekdays in summer from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. All students aged 11-14 are eligible to apply.

Selection is based upon the camp application submitted by the student describing the reasons for wanting to attend the camp in conjunction with a recommendation from a science teacher. Grade point average is not used as a criterion. Scholarships are available.


The lessons of Sensing Our World are designed to align with the Federal Education Standards for the middle school level student. Hands-on experiments and lecture demonstrations are employed. For example, in a prior session each student built a burglar alarm, using light sensitive CdS photodetectors, thereby introducing semiconductors, conductors and insulators, as well as simple circuits in the process. Students learned about smoke detectors that use a small quantity of radioactive materials.


Each student will receive a camp manual containing explanations and supplementary background information about all labs projects, as well as resource materials.

A pre-test and post-test are administered for each session. The pre-test informs the instructors about each studentís scientific background, which assists in tailoring the session content and level. The post-test gives a quantitative evaluation about the studentís progress over the course of the week. A concluding open-ended questionnaire is used to assess the studentís feelings about the camp.

The camp concludes with a student symposium to which parents, family, ND faculty, and staff and invited. In addition, each student is presented a certificate during a brief ceremony that follows the symposium.

The Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics
Updated Sept.10, 2009