Museum’s Spring into Science career expo a “huge success”

Fermilab’s Linda Purcell-Taylor explains what she does in her job to a group of girls from Sawyer Elementary School in Chicago. Credit: Christine Herman

In a large, open space in the northwest wing of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, scientists and engineers staffed tables that lined the room. With their science demos in place and smiles on their faces, they welcomed more than 1,000 people to the museum’s Spring into Science career expo on Saturday, May 21.

“The event was a huge success,” said Lizza Igoe, education coordinator at the museum and event organizer, in an email to the volunteers. “[Everyone] thoroughly enjoyed learning about different career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine, as well as getting a glimpse into the working world.”

Fermilab’s Mike Albrow, a particle physicist, and Linda Purcell-Taylor, a senior technician, volunteered at the event.

Purcell-Taylor placed a secondary emission monitor, also known as a beam profile monitor, on the Fermilab table.

The round, metallic device has a 4-inch diameter hole through the middle, which allows the particle beam to pass through. At the push of a button, a wire mesh material moves into the pathway of the particle beam. As particles pass through the mesh, they interact with the wires and create electrical signals that are collected and processed by a computer.

“This is part of a system we use to see the shape of the beam and where it is going through the beamline so that we can adjust magnets to steer it,” Purcell-Taylor explained to a group of girls from Sawyer Elementary School in Chicago, who crowded around the table to take a look.

One of the girls, Giselle Castañeda, a sixth grader, said she is part of the science club at her school and wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Castañeda and her friends jotted down notes as Purcell-Taylor talked about her job.

“I like that every day I’m learning something new about science,” Purcell-Taylor said to the girls.

Albrow also captured the students’ attention with a real-time cosmic ray detector. The device, which is about the size of a narrow shoe box and is filled with plastic particle-detecting fibers, was connected to a camera that transmitted the image to his laptop.

Fermilab’s Mike Albrow explains how a cosmic detector works to Israel Vargas and his son, Kai Vargas, a third grader from Daniel Zizumbo Charter School in Chicago. Credit: Christine Herman

“Their eyes lit up and they stared at that scintillating fiber bundle,” Albrow said. “When a cosmic ray came through we’d all say, ‘Wow!'”

Kai Vargas, an enthusiastic third grader from Daniel Zizumbo Charter School in Chicago, visited the Fermilab table with his dad, Israel Vargas.

When stars trillions of miles away explode, they shoot off cosmic rays that travel thousands of years before they reach the Earth, Albrow explained to them.

Israel said he brought Kai to the event to help further his interest in science.

“I love science, it’s my favorite subject,” Kai Vargas said. When asked what kind of science he liked best, he said excitedly, “All science. I love all of it.”

Albrow is a firm believer in making science fun for kids and said it is extremely rewarding for the scientists who get involved.

“We get so tied up talking complicated physics to our peers, so it is very refreshing to go back to the simple things that got most of us interested in it when we were kids,” Albrow said.

For Purcell-Taylor, science outreach events like these are opportunities to encourage children to go for science.

“It is only takes a little bit of time to make a positive impression that can last a lifetime,” she said.

— Christine Herman