The honor comes with a $2,000 grant that Levi will use to fund "The TIGER Project" with his Division Three students at Wildwood School in Los Angeles.
TIGER stands for Technologically Integrated Geotagged Environmental Research. Ninth grader Owen L. will lead the project, which involves sending students to various sites throughout Los Angeles to test metrics such as pH and dissolved oxygen content of the local outdoor water quality.
"Students will be checking the environmental conditions in their own city, and looking at those conditions over time to compile public data," Levi explains.
The project has four themes: air and water quality, drawing meaningful conclusions from data, the social impact of environmental quality, and the economic motivators behind current and potential environmental conditions. "This merges social science and physical science," says Levi.
Students will use netbooks, digital camcorders, and Wiki software that will be purchased with the ING grant. Levi sees these tools as fundamental equipment that can be used by "citizen scientists." In fact, the concept of the "citizen scientist" is a growing movement — and Levi is a passionate supporter. He envisions projects in which researchers at all levels, from high school to grad school, can do field work with little more than a cell phone to contribute to ever-expanding bodies of knowledge.
"It's about creating a central lab, then farming out the research to local citizens and creating 'volunteer effort science,'" he explains.
Levi has recruited two citizen scientists from Division Three, Charlie S. and Steven W., to work with him on a project at Caltech that involves finding compounds that will split into hydrogen and oxygen when placed in water. Another student, Paul N., is working with Levi on a radiation mapping project through Crashspace, which describes itself as "a collection of hackers, programmers, builders, makers, artists, and people who generally like to break things and see what new things we can build with the pieces."
This active, hands-on approach to science is in keeping with Levi's firm belief that "the most effective way to learn is through the apprenticeship model." "There's no reason why you can't get meaningful scientific data from 14-year-olds," he says. "Science is about hard work and endurance. It doesn't matter what age you are."