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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Bolingbrook High School students build positive connections with Argonne’s collaborative STEM community through the Exemplary Student Research Program (ESRP)

Over the course of three years, Bolingbrook High School’s participation in the ESRP has blossomed into an engaging and collaborative dynamic between students, their teacher and lab mentors.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is a place where great collaboration happens each day — not only between different areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research, but also with the numerous students involved in the lab’s educational programs. For one of these educational programs, the Exemplary Student Research Participation Program (ESRP), Bolingbrook High School has actively participated and created long-lasting partnerships between students, their teacher and the lab’s STEM research community.

This ESRP team exemplifies Argonne’s core value of teamwork. It is a true partnership between the high school teacher, students with varied interests and expertise, and an Argonne scientist — and everyone benefits. After all of their discussions and hard work together in learning about quantum mechanics, I think all participants would be hard-pressed to describe science in any other way than as a team activity.” — Kelly Sturner, Learning Center instructor

Despite a few technical challenges, Bolingbrook’s students and their teacher Lois Emde successfully connected with Chow for Beamline Day, where they got to use Argonne’s sophisticated beamline technologies. (Image by Mark Lopez.)

One of the most critical components of STEM research is teamwork, and we want to help students understand its importance in science,” said Argonne’s Learning Center instructor Kelly Sturner. Often, when we ask students how they picture scientists and engineers, they imagine them working alone, but that’s not really how it works. So one of the valuable things that ESRP teaches is that science can be, and usually is, a team activity.”

Bolingbrook High School teacher Lois Emde has facilitated Bolingbrook’s participation in the ESRP for the past three years since the school first joined the program. However, she largely lets her students solve challenges on their own without them needing her assistance, and she is proud of their accomplishments. It’s hard to remember that these students are just kids, because they’re talking like real STEM professionals,” she said. With the ESRP, they’re working together to come up with their own STEM questions and experiments, and it’s inspiring.”

This year, Bolingbrook has utilized Argonne’s high-tech facilities to conduct research into the structure and bonding of carbons. (Image by Mark Lopez.)

When I started this program three years ago, I could not believe that this program even existed,” said Bolingbrook senior Annabeth Yeung. It’s the sort of thing I didn’t expect to be able to do while in high school. I love discovering something new every year — and at every meeting.” Yeung particularly liked regularly interacting with the lab’s researchers. Getting their perspective is very helpful,” she said. After three years, I have a much better understanding now of what happens in a lab, and how to cooperate as a team to find answers to unsolved questions.”

Over the course of two years, Chow has forged a strong bond with the Bolingbrook students that he mentors. (Image by Mark Lopez.)

Argonne beamline scientist Paul Chow has helped Bolingbrook students gain a better understanding of STEM concepts and lab work. The biggest impact we make in the ESRP is how it changes the way students think,” he said. I’m impressed with the students — their innate curiosity is so evident, and I find myself inspired by them.”

Over years of mentoring Bolingbrook and other schools in the ESRP, Chow has built a spirit of collaboration with schools like Bolingbrook. We have the responsibility to pass on what we’ve learned to the next generation, and these students will be the future scientific leaders of our nation,” he said.

Chow conducts experiments on carbon in conjunction with students from Bolingbrook High School. (Image by Mark Lopez.)

Emde especially appreciated how engaged her students were this year, noting that even on Friday afternoons, they didn’t want to stop discussing STEM questions. These kids are involved in every activity at the school, but if it’s something that they’re motivated to do, if it’s something that really intrigues them, they make the time for it,” she said. It’s a chance for them to explore real-world science while still in high school, and I’m happy to see them work alongside researchers and become part of a larger STEM community.”

This ESRP team exemplifies Argonne’s core value of teamwork,” Sturner added. It is a true partnership between the high school teacher, students with varied interests and expertise, and an Argonne scientist — and everyone benefits. After all of their discussions and hard work together in learning about quantum mechanics, I think all participants would be hard-pressed to describe science in any other way than as a team activity.”

Through their virtual collaboration with Chow, Bolingbrook students participating in the ESRP gain invaluable insights on what it’s like to conduct professional research at a national lab. (Image by Mark Lopez.)

Argonne’s Educational Programs is now actively recruiting new high school teams to collaborate with Argonne for the 2021-22 school year. Teachers interested in leading a team at their school can apply now. More information about the ESRP is available here. You can also reach out to Kelly Sturner at kmoran@​anl.​gov.

In addition to Bolingbrook, the following 12 schools also participated in the 2020-2021 ESRP:

  • Glenbrook South High School
  • Hoffman Estates High School
  • Lakes Community High School
  • Lemont High School
  • Lincoln-Way East High School
  • Lockport Township High School
  • Maine South High School
  • Metea Valley High School
  • Naperville Central High School
  • Neuqua Valley High School
  • Oak Forest High School
  • Tinley Park High School

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

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.