Fermilab conference inspires girls who just want to learn STEM

“I've always liked traffic patterns,” says Aleah Gacek, a senior at Benet Academy in Lisle who wants to solve the Chicago region's congestion problems through engineering.

Gacek got a taste of what it would be like to be female leader in this field during Fermilab's second Wonderful Women in STEM conference Saturday in Batavia.

She was among 38 high school students from throughout the suburbs who got to participate in hands-on activities and learn from field experts in physics, computer science, and mechanical and electrical engineering.

“The purpose is to engage girls to study STEM careers,” said Minerba Betancourt, a Fermilab physicist and conference organizer.

Betancourt said there is a high demand for workers in STEM-related jobs, and the conference highlights the role of women in these fields. Most of the 15 Fermilab scientist mentors at the conference were women.

Fermilab is the U.S.'s particle physics and accelerator laboratory and a leader in the development of particle colliders and their use for scientific discovery.

“We are building the future,” Betancourt said of Fermilab's role in scientific research. Fermilab's summer programs for high school and college students allow them to spend two months doing research alongside leading scientists, she added.

During Saturday's five-hour conference, students teamed up for a scavenger hunt to discover new and intriguing technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality and computational thinking concepts, and their applications while solving puzzles, riddles and challenges.

They explored links between mass and motion, working in groups to build a small car powered by a 5-lb weight. They learned how a radio works and how to build one themselves. And they learned all about neutrinos — the most abundant, yet mysterious particle in the universe, which is being studied by Fermilab scientists to deduce its properties and how it interacts with matter.

“It's very hands-on. You're basically applying things you learned in school,” said Manaal Shamsi, a sophomore at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora.

Shamsi said she was inspired to hear from a female scientist who was a minority like herself.

“Not a lot of Muslim girls try to pursue (scientific research),” said Shamsi adding, she wants to study mechatronic engineering and computer science after graduating from high school.

  Manaal Shamsi, left, Julie Lima, center, and Serena Gacek, all sophomores at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, participate in Fermilab's Wonderful Women in STEM conference Saturday in Batavia. More than three dozen suburban high school students engaged in hands-on activities in physics, computer science and engineering guided by Fermilab scientists. Madhu Krishnamurthy/
  Aleah Gacek, left, a senior at Benet Academy in Lisle, and Manaal Shamsi, center, and Julie Lima, both sophomores at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, participate in Fermilab's Wonderful Women in STEM conference Saturday in Batavia. Madhu Krishnamurthy/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.