Fermilab sparks kids’ interest in science

Naperville Central High School teacher Katherine Seguino said that when she studied math and physics in college, very few women were in the program.

“It was an anomaly for a woman like me to have that kind of double major,” Seguino said. “I sometimes felt like the token female in the class.”

Seguino was happy, then, to see the Naperville Central club GEMS — Girl Engineers, Mathematicians and Scientists — draw a big crowd at the Family Open House held Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.

GEMS created an exhibit for the “physics carnival,” a new event at the open house that brought schools from around the area together to show that science can be both cool and fun.

The GEMS exhibit showed how light from a laser can be bent using mirrors, and how it can be refracted by the facets of a diamond. A crowd of interested boys and girls listened to Naperville Central students Shilpa Murthy, Cassidy Schneider and Sabina Maddila as they explained the exhibit.

“I look at these students as role models for younger girls who are interested in science,” said Seguino, who chairs the science department at Naperville Central.

Naperville North High School also participated in the physics carnival. Members of the school’s physics club built a “hovercraft” that floated along the floor like an air-hockey puck. Young spectators got a chance to take a ride on the craft.

“We wanted to do something that involved science but was also fun,” said sophomore Cari Cesarotti.

Fermilab spokeswoman Tona Kunz said the facility’s education office added the physics carnival to this year’s open house in an effort to get more young people interested in science.

“The kids who come in see young people not too far from their own age doing these amazing things with science, and it shows them that they can do it, too,” Kunz said. “That’s important. We need more people going into science.”

The open house, which ran all afternoon Sunday, included a wide variety of other physics-related demonstrations and hands-on activities.

“It was fun,” said Genevieve Carlson of St. Charles. “My son is always asking how things work, so I thought this would be a nice thing for him to see. He loved it.”

  Richard Komendanchik, 13, of Downers Grove tries out a display called “Conservation Of Angular Momentum“ with help from students Gabriel Cerda, left, and Elaine Ocampo of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. Tanit jarusan/