PPPL’s Young Women’s Conference offers girls fun and inspiration in STEM fields
Robots, forensics, and cool chemistry aim to interest girls in STEM education
Some 750 girls will operate robots, use goggles to get a 3-D view of the brain, learn about computer coding and talk to FBI forensics investigators at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s Young Women’s Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) on Friday, March 22, at the Frick Chemistry Laboratory on the Princeton University campus.
They will talk to female scientists and engineers; watch eye-catching and booming chemistry experiments; and talk to early-career scientists and engineers about their careers. As one recent participant put it, “It’s all cool science.”
“The idea of the Young Women’s Conference is to provide a day of fun for seventh to tenth-grade girls with the goal of sparking an interest in science that might lead them to consider STEM careers,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Communications and Public Outreach at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). The program aims to change the statistics that show that while more women are entering STEM fields, they still lag far behind men. While 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, compared to 42 percent of men, only 36 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM are earned by women compared to 64 percent of men, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“For 18 years, the Young Women's Conference has brought hundreds of students from around New Jersey together to learn from and meet successful women STEM professionals,” Zwicker said. “This is a key step in recruiting the most diverse and highly-qualified next generation of New Jersey’s scientists and engineers.”
The conference has become more popular each year with registration for this year’s event filling up within one month, said organizer Deedee Ortiz, the program manager for PPPL’s Science Education office. “The demand is overwhelming,” Ortiz said. “I think the girls are not shy about their curiosity and it shows. They are showing interest and enthusiastically asking all the right questions. You can almost see the spark in their eyes!”
She noted that this year’s conference features more exhibitors than any previous year, including an exhibit on the brain by the Liberty Science Center, and exhibits from the Grounds for Sculpture Stewart Johnson Atelier, and an exhibit by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
Tammy Ma, keynote speaker, is a plasma physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility. Ma leads experiments aimed at achieving fusion ignition by aiming laser beams at compressed fuel capsules containing deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). The process, called inertial confinement fusion, aims to achieve sustained nuclear fusion with the ultimate goal of creating abundant and clean energy.
Breakout speakers/presenters are:
Kamana Misra, M.D., is founder of the companies ContraRx and BioThink LLC. She is president of the Association for Women in Science, New Jersey chapter. Misra was previously director of research and development for Regenerative Medicine in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is a graduate of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Elahesadat Naghib’s research has focused on using algorithms to plan and schedule the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a wide-field reflecting telescope being built in Chile that will survey half the sky every night. She is a final-year Ph.D. candidate in Princeton University’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department. She received a Ph.D. Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation fund for the LSST.
Kathryn “Kitty” Wagner’s chemistry show has been one of the most popular features of the Young Women’s Conference for many years. Wagner is a senior technical staff member in the Chemistry Department at Princeton University who serves as lecturer demonstrator and director of outreach. She received her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Arkansas, Fayetville, and her Ph.D. in inorganic and general chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.
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