It was a day of science, a day of celebration: On May 20, Argonne National Laboratory opened its doors to the public for its long-awaited Argonne Open House, the first in seven years.
And the people responded: 9,000 guests of all ages converged at the lab to see Argonne’s big machines up close, participate in interactive science games, snap selfies with researchers and explore careers in science.
Argonne National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for a mom of a burgeoning scientist who’s 7 to be able to expose him to the things that happen when you work in science, or at least one part of science,” said Lauren of Bartlett, Illinois. “I’m shocked at how open, inviting and accessible the different projects here are.”
The Open House offered visitors nearly 100 inspiring activities and tours spanning four science themes: Creating the Tools of Science, Improving Public and Personal Health, Saving the Planet, and Understanding the Universe.
Kids had a blast making gooey, slimy polymers resembling Gak and assembling models of planets to see how mass affects their rotation. They also got to make origami globes that illustrated building techniques used in constructing energy-efficient homes.
The Open House featured science games aplenty, luring kids and grownups alike into learning science concepts. Visitors played a neural-networks game inspired by the game Telephone and casino-style games that taught them the strange-but-true principles of quantum physics.
“There are interesting things here from a lot of different fields — not only for adults, but also for kids. I’m an electrical engineer, so I like the electrical part of it, like the electric vehicle area. Everyone can find something of interest,” said Artur Galt of Naperville, Illinois.
“I like the stuff where you try to throw the recycling stuff into the recycling bins,” said Cameron, age 6, of Arlington Heights, about a basket toss game demonstrating the different materials that can be recycled.
Interactivity was the order of the day. Visitors sopped up oil using a specially designed sponge, demonstrating a method for cleaning up environmental oil spills. They interacted with a model of uranium to see how see how the atom splits to produce nuclear energy, and they worked with different types of films to see how light interacts with various materials. Working their way through a virtual laboratory escape room, participants learned how Argonne’s science contributed to understanding COVID-19 and the tools needed to fight the virus.
“We saw a lot of cool stuff. Everything was super interactive and hands-on,” said Srihas, 16, of Buffalo Grove.
“As a health care professional, I really enjoyed the Improving Public and Personal Health area,” said Flavia Ramos of Orland Park. “It was nice to see how we’re making that such an important part of science.”
Argonne’s big science tools were on grand display, and guests had a chance to tour the high-tech research facilities. Visitors were awed by the giant visualizations of computer simulations in the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) and the enormous instruments that make up the Advanced Photon Source (APS), an X-ray light source large enough to encircle a sports stadium. (Both the ALCF and APS are DOE Office of Science user facilities.) In a tour titled “Innovations in Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” visitors also explored future mobility solutions such as scooters, e-bikes and drones, and saw a full-size locomotive engine used for research on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also learned about public safety at an exhibit featuring the favorite vehicle of many kids — a big red fire truck.
“I liked all the cool machines, especially the supercomputer. I can see how it works,” said Marvel Okafor, a teenage guest from DuPage County. “They said it takes a lot of space, the space of four tennis courts. That’s huge for a single computer.”
Guests appreciated being able to see science from a researcher’s perspective.
“This has been a great opportunity. We always hear about labs, what they do. It gives us a perspective of what actually happens in a lab. And it’s exciting when the scientists tell us about the science, what they want to do, what they’ve achieved so far,” said Amrita Roy of Lisle, Illinois. “It’s really exciting. It gives people who are not from scientific backgrounds a window, a way to look into the lives of the scientists.”
In case any of the activities inspired guests to consider a career in science, the Open House had them covered. Experts were on hand to talk about careers in research, as well as in safety and health. And attendees took home special cards featuring actual laboratory staff — an engineer, a sustainability expert, an education specialist and an executive assistant, to name only a few.
“My oldest kid is really benefiting from it. She spoke to one of the presenters about the internship program. She doesn’t know what to do after high school, but I think this is helping her — she enjoys science,” said Nicole of the Sherwood area. “It’s interesting to see what is out there. It’s generally hidden, and you don’t really know what’s available until you’re here.”
At the Open House, Argonne showed that it takes all kinds to carry out breakthrough science.
“Our Open House was an exceptional showcase of Argonne’s transformational science. Discovery starts with curiosity, and we sparked the public’s curiosity about how we unlock new frontiers for America’s energy future,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns. “It’s a privilege for Argonne to serve the public through our research. And today, we were honored to share that science with thousands of our biggest fans.”
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://energy.gov/science.