Who's the Scientist?

Seventh graders describe scientists before and after a visit to Fermilab.

We are amazed at the renewed interest in our website since the URL hit the blogosphere. This short description may help answer some of the questions that have popped up.

This was a special field trip. It was ten years ago, and Wilson Hall was undergoing some serious structural renovations which left ugly plywood walls on the 15th floor where visitors came. We decided to organize a special field trip and put students' art work on the temporary wall.

We invited a teacher who regularly brought her class to the Lab in our Beauty and Charm program for this special field trip. Our regular field trip assumes that teachers have attended a workshop, and students have studied an instructional unit about Fermilab before they visit the Lab. During this field trip docents lead the group to the 15th Floor where they can see experimental areas from the windows, look at a large site model and more. They also visit the first two accelerators, stop at the cancer therapy area and go on to the Main Control Room. They spend time at the Lederman Science Center with our collection of hands-on exhibits that explain the ideas, tools and methods of Fermilab science, and they meet with a physicist or engineer for Q&A. Usually the scientist brings something from his/her work to show the students. Sometimes the docent does some cryogenics demos. Students are free to ask any questions they like. Most teachers have the students prepare a few questions before they come.

What we changed for this field trip was the before and after descriptions and small group sessions for each student to meet with two of three physicists rather than one large group session. We deliberately chose a typical white male, a young female and an African American physicist. We let the students and physicist take their discussion where they wanted.

This was not an original idea; colleagues from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory shared similar students drawings. However, our results were typical. Few young people have never met a scientist or engineer and most have an opportunity to see where they work. In 1985, middle school teachers asked us if they could bring their students to Fermilab. They helped us develop Beauty and Charm so that those students who came to a working researchlaboratory would come with a purpose. Last year over 2,000 students participated in this program.

June, 2010

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