Online Superheroes in STEM conference for high school students a success

On May 1, Fermilab held its second Superheroes in STEM conference for high school students. The goal of this annual event is to encourage the participation, retention and advancement of students in science, technology, engineering and math.  The Hispanic/Latino Forum, which is part of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office at Fermilab, led the effort with the generous support of Fermilab employees who volunteered their time to share science and their experience with students.

The two-hour conference began with inspirational keynote talks by Fermilab scientists Tammy Walton and Juan Estrada. During the second hour, students participated in one of eight panel discussions with scientists and engineers:

  • Astrophysics: Aleksandra Ciprijanovic, James Annis and Arka  Chair: Bruce Howard.
  • Dark Matter: Ana Botti, Nikita Blinov and Noah Kurinsky. Chair: Minerba
  • Electrical Engineering: Craig Drennan, Luciano Elemeteri, MiguelAngel Marchan and Cristian Arcola. Chair: Pamela Klabbers.
  • Large Hadron Collider: Cristina Mantilla Suarez and Kevin Pedro. Chair: William Higgins.
  • Mechanical Engineering: Jennifer Chikelu, Frederique Pellemoine and Cortez Waltkins. Chair: Aria Soha.
  • NeutrinoPhysics: Tanaz Mohayai, Supraja Balasubramanian and Leo Aliaga. Chair: Erica Snider.
  • PhysicsTheory: Noemi Rocco, Shirley Li and Kevin Kelly. Chair: Lori Haseltine.
  • Quantum Computing: Mattia Checchin, Farah Fahim, Silvia Zorzetti. Chair: Genfa

Each session started with a presentation to introduce the speakers and explain how each became either a scientist or an engineer. The discussion revolved around the work each panelist performs and the experiments or theory in which they are involved at Fermilab. They talked about their motivation for entering their fields and shared the challenges and rewarding experiences they’ve had throughout their time working at Fermilab.

In closing, students were invited to become familiar with the many programs Fermilab offers to summer interns.

Slides and videos from the keynote speakers and science chats are available at

Some feedback we received from participating students included:

“I loved how we were able to go into breakout rooms with scientists and have conversations with them. It was very easy to ask them questions, and the room chair would ask questions if we didn’t have any at the moment. It was awesome”.

“I got the opportunities to interact with the physicists and get a lot of knowledge on their research projects.”.

“It was a fascinating experience to talk to actual researchers at Fermilab, and hear about what they do, as well as learn in detail about such interesting and unusual topics such as neutrinos, which I had barely heard of before”.

“I loved it! Even virtually, I felt I was able to connect and communicate with scientists in a personal way. It was very easy to ask questions while in the breakout rooms, especially with the experts encouraging participation. If there were to be a similar event in the future, I would 100% participate!”.

Many thanks to all who participated. We couldn’t have had such successful STEM events without the support and dedication of volunteers who organized and put together the presentations. Our gratitude also goes out to the Fermilab Laboratory Resource groups, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Education and Public Engagement for their assistance.

Fermilab physicists Minerba Betancourt and Leo Aliaga-Soplin are the conference organizers. Minerba and Leo are also leaders of the Hispanic/Latino Forum.