The Argonne event helps Hispanic students explore their dreams of STEM careers

Newswise – A group of eighth-graders at Joliet's Gompers Junior High School recently walked around the control room of the Zero Gradient Synchrotron's Intensely Pulsed Neutron Source, quickly flipping metal switches and pressing buttons as if on a mission to feel history in their hands.

Students did not take on secret projects or endanger the world.

Instead, they had their first chance to touch the historic equipment that began pioneering experiments in particle physics at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Students enjoyed the now-defunct dashboards as if they were still freshly cut, cutting edge technology from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

“I did not expect to see so many Latinos here today. They gave me confidence, especially knowing that they are just as Latino as I am.” – Kevin Murillo, eighth grader at Gompers Junior High School in Joliet

“I really liked learning things here (at Argonne) because over time people are doing more research and learning not to pollute the water and the air…I also liked hearing the scientist tell us that some of the COVID-19 vaccines have been researched. here. It was really interesting,” said 13-year-old Isabel Nino, who spoke through an interpreter, her teacher Denise Vuotto.

Niño was among 40 students, most of whom hailed from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and other countries, who saw firsthand how scientists and scholars of Hispanic/Latino heritage and related professionals have contributed to scientific discoveries for 18 years.e Annual Hispanic/Latino Educational Outreach Day (HEOD) in Argonne. He hosted an educational event Argonne Hispanic/Latino Club Employee Resource Group (AHLC ERG). The group has partnered with local schools in underserved communities to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for nearly two decades.

At the forefront of this effort is HEOD, a one-day event that gives students a first-hand look inside one of the nation's premier laboratories and helps these high school students envision new, accessible career opportunities. Students had a unique opportunity to participate in experiments, connect with scientists and discuss STEM and related careers. HEOD was held on October 4th during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Students spent the day exploring different areas of science, including an overview of different types of energy. They also showed what a nuclear fuel pellet looks like and how they could replicate it using clay.

13-year-old Caleb Salazar used his musculos (muscles) to hold a metal cylinder filled with clay powder. The pressure he applied helped form the pellet, giving him a strong idea of ​​what the real thing would look like.

“Today really taught me a lot about how things work and how energy works,” said Salazar, who aspires to study engineering and build cars that don't pollute, are safer in crashes and last longer.

Participants have shown enthusiasm and curiosity over the years, said Mike Kaminsky, senior nuclear chemical engineer in Argonne's Strategic Security Sciences Division. Kaminski, who is of Mexican and Polish heritage, is the president of the AHLC ERG. She wants to ensure that students get the information they need to succeed, especially if they are considering STEM careers.

“You can see the excitement in these high school students, and it hasn't changed since we started this event,” Kaminski said. ​“They see the cutting edge of science at Argonne and learn about how we help the nation, our allies and the world and their capabilities. They see careers available to them that can be very rewarding, very rewarding and give them the opportunity to balance their lives. Of course, that was not the case with my parents, who never had that choice. Many of these kids are the first generation who can become professionals and enjoy life in a way that their parents and grandparents didn't have the opportunity to.”

Another program allowed students to configure magnets to “build” a particle accelerator. Students played with configuring magnets to roll and bend a steel bar around a curve, mimicking how engineers build particle accelerators like Argon's. Argonne Tandem Linac accelerator system (ATLAS) and the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. ATLAS is a user facility of the DOE Office of Science.

Students also donned safety glasses and personal protective equipment to extract DNA from strawberries to learn how evidence can be obtained in different cases.

These exercises help younger students develop cognitive skills. The event also allows Argonne to reach these students before they go to high school and introduce them to STEM opportunities, said Annette Martinez, AHLC ERG secretary and Argonne external communications and outreach strategist.

“We're trying to plant the seeds of STEM curiosity in these young minds so they can flourish in the garden of innovation in the future,” Martinez said. ​“Every interaction and experience should be a stepping stone that leads them on their journey to a deeper understanding of STEM. Recognizing the strong demand for the future STEM workforce and the underrepresentation of Latinos in these fields, our mission is to inspire them and provide them with rewarding careers in STEM.”

Eighth grader Kevin Murillo has enjoyed HEOD and hopes to one day become a chemist. He would be the first in his family to achieve such a dream, especially after seeing so many Argonian scholars as well as other professionals of Spanish heritage.

“I didn't expect to see so many Latinos here today,” Murillo said. ​”They gave me confidence, especially knowing that they are Latino just like me.”

Funding for HEOD is provided by fundraising activities from the Argonne Leadership Institute, the Office of the Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago, and donations from MadMaxMar, as well as individual donations from Argonne employees.

Argonne Tandem Linac accelerator system

This material is based on work supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics, under contract number DE‐AC02‐06CH11357. This research utilized the resources of the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS), a DOE Office of Science user facility.

Argonne National Laboratory Seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. As the nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts advanced basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state, and municipal agencies to help them solve specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership, and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 countries, Argonne is run UChicago Argonne, LLC for US Department of Energy Office of Science.

US Department of Energy Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information visit