Argonne to host annual Science Careers in Search of Women conference

By Eleanor TaylorApril 7, 2011

ARGONNE, Ill—On December 2, 1942, 50-plus men and a lone woman gathered under the west stands of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field to produce the world's first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, an event that later led to the creation of Argonne National Laboratory. Since then, women like biologist Rosalind Franklin, astronaut Sally Ride and Argonne physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer have made major contributions to the progress of science.

To encourage and inspire more young women to pursue careers in science, Argonne will host its 24th annual Science Careers in Search of Women Conference on April 14, 2011, welcoming approximately 350 high school students from across the Chicago area to experience science and engineering first hand.

"The event was a lot of fun and incredibly positive," said Emily Temple-Wood, a junior at Downers Grove North High School who attended last year's event. "It showed me that my second X chromosome is in no way a disadvantage." Temple-Wood plans to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and study physics. She hopes to become a research scientist and credits Argonne with helping to affirm that she made the right choice.

"Don't be afraid to explore science," she said, "even if you're the only girl in the room. I learned that women are involved in every science, technology and engineering field imaginable. I met some incredible role models and had a glimpse of the amazing work I may be doing in 10 or 15 years."

Emma Patchak, a senior at Larkin High School, agrees. "The conference had a huge impact and changed the way I saw myself and my future," she said. "The day after the event I decided I wanted to study engineering, a field I had never considered before." Patchak has been accepted at the University of Chicago and was previously planning to study art. "I had no idea how fun and exciting these careers could be or how much creativity plays a part in science and engineering,"

Some research shows that young women often lose interest in scientific and technical fields of study, even before entering college.

"Women are still under-represented in scientific and engineering fields," said Kawtar Hafidi, an Argonne physicist and conference co-chair. "Having these young women meet with successful female scientists is an important way to show them that, contrary to gender stereotypes, this is a career path that is accessible to them."

The event's keynote speaker will be Boyana Norris, an Argonne computer scientist and mother of three. She first came to Argonne as a student in 1998 and returned in 1999 as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2001, she joined Argonne's Mathematics and Computer Science Division, where she works on enabling technologies for high-performance simulations that have been applied in atmospheric chemistry, breast cancer modeling, storm modeling and power system analysis.

Her talk will be titled "Confessions of a Juggler: How to (not) Succeed at Everything."

"Today there are numerous exciting opportunities for research and development in science and engineering," said Norris. "I want to encourage these young women to learn what the possibilities are and pursue their dreams."

Students will participate in panel discussions with speakers from a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and engineering. They will also have the opportunity to tour several different laboratories at Argonne, as well as visit career booths.

At lunchtime, students will be matched by their areas of interest with a scientist in that field to provide an opportunity for more informal, one-on-one conversation.

"For the past 24 years we have been working to inspire young women to become our next generation of scientists and engineers," said conference co-chair Andrew Skipor, interim director of Argonne's Division of Educational Programs. "A lot of good has come out of the program, and we hope to continue encouraging young women to pursue all of the different opportunities that are available to them."

More than 7,000 young women have participated in the program since it began at Argonne in 1987.

Besides reaching out to students, the conference has also benefited women researchers at Argonne by fostering networking opportunities that led to the formation of the laboratory's Women in Science and Technology program, which supports the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) commitment to recruit, retain and promote women to diversify and strengthen the scientific workforce.

The conference is sponsored by Argonne's Office of the Director, the lab's Division of Educational Programs, Argonne's Women in Science and Technology Program and DOE's Office of Science.