Conference shows high school girls their scientific future

By Justin H.S. BreauxApril 7, 2014

ARGONNE, Ill. – Nearly 400 high school girls from the Chicago area will attend the 27th annual Science Careers in Search of Women conference on April 10 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

The conference gives young women the opportunity to “test drive” a science career by attending meetings, networking and participating in one-on-one conversations with women researchers in the physical, engineering and life sciences.

Students tailor their own experiences during the registration process by choosing the types of science they’d like to explore; they can sit with a scientist in one of the fields at lunch and participate in a panel discussion focusing on another field in the afternoon.

Argonne environmental engineer and WIST committee chair Lisa Durham sees the conference as an opportunity to expose students to a variety of careers in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) and to talented women in those professions. “We hope to inspire many of the students to pursue STEM careers and to broaden their perceptions of fit within STEM by exposing them to female role models,” Durham says.

G.G. Guitart, a senior at New Trier High School, knows that she will be majoring in science when she gets to college. “I like all of the sciences, especially chemistry,” she says. “That’s where the opportunities are, but I know that I need more exposure to decide on a path.”

An 8:30 a.m. career/leadership assessment is followed by a keynote address by Argonne nuclear physicist Kawtar Hafidi. Hafidi’s research focuses on understanding how fundamental particles, like quarks and gluons, form nuclear matter, and how these form all the visible matter in the universe.

Her talk, “14 Billion Years of Captivity,” traces moments in her life from her past as a girl in Morocco on through to her present as a nuclear physicist and mom. “I will talk about my journey as a young girl and the moments in my life that made me who I am today,” Hafidi says. “I just want share with these girls how exciting and full of possibilities science can be.”

Hafidi earned a Bachelor of Science degree in theoretical physics from Mohammed University in Morocco in 1995 and began her career at Argonne as a post-doctoral researcher in 1999. She is the recipient of many honors, including the 2013 Women in Science and Technology Diversity Award, the 2012 University of Chicago & Argonne LLC Pinnacle of Education Award and the 2010 U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science Outstanding Mentor Award.

Following the keynote, students break out into tour groups where researchers explain their work and the technology they use to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the world.

The conference is sponsored by Argonne's Office of the Director, the lab's Division of Communications, Education and Public Affairs, Argonne's Women in Science and Technology Program and DOE's Office of Science.