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Press Release | Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne event helps Hispanic students explore their dreams of STEM careers

A first look inside a national lab shows how pioneering science helps the world

From replicating a nuclear pellet to discovering DNA in strawberries, Argonne helps to open eyes and some doors toward STEM careers.

A group of eighth graders from Gompers Junior High School in Joliet recently swarmed the Zero Gradient Synchrotron-Intense Pulsed Neutron Source control room, rapidly flicking metal switches and urgently pushing buttons, as if on a mission to feel history in their hands.

The students did not take over top-secret projects or endanger the world.

Instead, they had their first chance to touch the historic equipment that ushered in pioneering experiments in particle physics at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The students relished the now decommissioned control boards as if they were still freshly minted, state-of-the-art technology from the 1960s through to the early 2000s.

I didn’t expect to see so many Latinos here today. They gave me confidence, especially knowing they are Latino just like me.” — Kevin Murillo, eighth grader at Gompers Junior High School in Joliet 

I really liked learning about things here (at Argonne) because, over time, people are doing more research and learning not to contaminate the water and air … I also liked hearing the scientist tell us that part of the COVID-19 vaccines were researched here. That was really interesting,” said Isabel Nino, 13, who spoke through an interpreter, her teacher Denise Vuoto.

Nino was among 40 students, many originally from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere, who saw firsthand how scientists and related professionals of Hispanic/Latino heritage contribute to science discoveries during the 18th annual Hispanic/Latino Educational Outreach Day (HEOD) at Argonne. The educational event was hosted by the Argonne Hispanic/Latino Club employee resource group (AHLC ERG). The group has partnered with local schools in underserved communities to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for nearly two decades.

About 40 eighth-grade students from Gompers Junior High School in Joliet saw firsthand how scientists of Hispanic/Latino heritage contribute to science during the 18th annual Hispanic/Latino Educational Outreach Day (HEOD). (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

At the forefront of this effort is HEOD, a day-long event that gives students a firsthand look inside one of the nation’s premier labs and helps these middle schoolers envision new, accessible career opportunities. The students had a unique opportunity to participate in experiments, network with scientists and discuss STEM and related careers. HEOD was held Oct. 4 during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The students spent the day learning about different areas of science, including an overview of various types of energy. They also were shown what a nuclear fuel pellet looks like and how they could replicate it using clay.

Kaleb Salazar, 13, used his músculos (muscles) to press down on a metal cylinder filled with clay powder. The pressure he applied helped to form the pellet, which gave him a strong image of what the real thing would look like.

Today really taught me a lot about how stuff works and how energy works,” said Salazar, who aspires to study engineering and build cars that don’t pollute, are safer during crashes and last longer.

Participants over the years have been enthusiastic and inquisitive, said Mike Kaminski, senior nuclear chemical engineer in Argonne’s Strategic Security Sciences division. Kaminski, who is of Mexican and Polish heritage, is president of AHLC ERG. He wants to ensure that students get the information they need to succeed, especially if they consider STEM careers.

You can just see the excitement in these middle schoolers and that has not changed since we started this event,” said Kaminski. They see the cutting edge of science at Argonne, and they also learn about how we help the nation, our allies and the world, and their possibilities. They see a career that is available to them that could be very well paying, very rewarding, and gives them the ability to balance their life. It is certainly not how it was with my parents, who never had this option. Many of these kids are the first generation who can become professionals and enjoy life in a way that their parents and grandparents never had the opportunity.”

Another program allowed the students to configure magnets to build” a particle accelerator. The students played with the configuration of magnets to get a steel bar to roll and curve around a bend that mimicked how engineers had built particle accelerators, like Argonne’s Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS) and the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. ATLAS is a DOE Office of Science user facility.

Students also donned safety goggles and personal protective equipment to extract DNA from strawberries to learn how evidence can be obtained in a variety of cases.

These exercises help younger students develop their cognitive skills. The event also allows Argonne to reach these students before they go to high school and introduces them to STEM opportunities, said Annette Martinez, the AHLC ERG secretary and an Argonne external communications and outreach strategist.

We aspire to sow the seeds of STEM curiosity in these young minds so they will bloom into a garden of innovation in the future,” said Martinez. Every interaction and experience are meant to be a steppingstone, guiding their journey towards a deeper understanding of STEM. Recognizing the pressing demand for a robust future STEM workforce and acknowledging the underrepresentation of Latinos in these fields, our mission is to inspire them, and get them to consider a rewarding career in STEM.”

Eighth grader Kevin Murillo enjoyed HEOD and hopes to become a chemist one day. He would be the first in his family to achieve such a dream, especially after seeing so many Argonne scientists and other professionals also of Hispanic heritage.

I didn’t expect to see so many Latinos here today,” Murillo said. They gave me confidence, especially knowing they are Latino just like me.”

Funding for HEOD is provided by the Argonne Leadership Institute, the Office of Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago and donations from MadMaxMar as well as individual donations from Argonne employees through fundraising activities.

Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics, under contract number DE‐AC02‐06CH11357. This research used resources of the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

 

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.