September 4, 2012
Enrico Fermi Summer Intern Program reaches local students under the direction of Prof. Mark Oreglia, eleven rising eighth graders spent a week of their summer vacation on campus immersed in the world of science and technology. The young Enrico Fermi Science Interns spent their mornings in lectures and programming computers. The afternoons were devoted to hands-on fieldwork activities designed by Liz Lehman, a curriculum developer and school support services associate at the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE).
Participants were introduced to the esoteric field of high-energy particle physics. Lauren Tompkins, a post-doctoral fellow in physics who delivered some of the lectures said, “Talking to the kids about particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider was fantastic. They were highly engaged, asking insightful questions which showed they were thinking about and processing what I was saying. Particle physics can be daunting to some people because it deals with a world of invisible objects, but these kids were eager to learn about it!” Lectures were also delivered by Mark Oreglia, a professor in physics and Joe O'Gallagher, a senior scientist at the Enrico Fermi Institute.
Under the direction of Mary Heintz, a systems administrator with the Electronics Design Group and High Energy Physics, the students created their own websites. Links to their pages can be found on the High Energy Physics Outreach page. They also programed microprocessers. These are similar to devices that control our cars or home thermostats. Students learned how control LEDs and make a speaker play different notes. The final project was to build a memory game using the skills they learned to control lights, sounds, and buttons.
Afternoons were spent in fieldwork designed by Lehman around the theme of water ecology and conservation. Investigations included identifying how water is used, measuring how much water is consumed by different uses, and experimenting with ways water can be cleaned prior to use. The students spread out through Hyde Park, collecting data on water uses in our community that was then used to create a water usage map. The water usage map can be viewed on the group’s website and includes very visible uses (e.g., landscaping irrigation) and less obvious ones (e.g., bricks used in buildings and sidewalks were made with water) that the students observed. They were regularly challenged to find ways to solve problems and gather information. For example, when measuring water usage while drinking water from a fountain, how much water makes it you’re your mouth and how much goes straight down the drain? If you’re using a toilet that doesn’t have a tank, how do you measure how much water each flush uses? This group of students can share several techniques they developed!
Students also created water filtration systems using everyday materials. The students were organized into teams and challenged to see who could make the “best” device to clean up samples of dirty water. Lehman was pleased with the their efforts, “I was amazed at how enthusiastic they were in trying to come up with the best solution. Each team took a different approach to solving the challenge and revised their ideas when the first, and sometimes second, filter didn’t meet expectations. The engineering design process really came to life!”
Prof. Oreglia started the program in 2006 as part of the ‘Broader Impacts’ requirement included in a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Oreglia wanted to influence youngsters who may not have really envisioned college in their future. “I really hope that this experience might encourage them to consider college and think about careers in science and technology.” The interns come from local schools including Kenwood Academy, Murray Language Academy, and Woodlawn Charter School and must be recommended by their science teachers. NSF funds cover the cost of materials, microprocessors, and incidentals.
This was the second year that Oregila’s group has partnered with CEMSE. The activities designed by Lehman and her colleagues added a new dimension to the program. “We are educators,” said Oreglia, “but Liz’s work gave us a new perspective on working with young students. We learned a lot.”
Enthusiastic participants have asked if the program could be longer or if they could come again. Oreglia said, “I really regret that we cannot extend the program because of the demands of research, but the idea of bringing back “alumni” is intriguing. I am considering inviting back students who have participated and engaging them in teaching new students.”