PRINCETON, New Jersey - About 50 boys from John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton, New Jersey, will make their own electromagnets, view a demonstration of how cryogenics can flash freeze a flower, see science demonstrations that literally will make their hair stand on end and learn all about fusion energy research in a special My Brother’s Keeper event at Princeton University’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) on Friday, March 4. The event aims to spark an interest in science and technology in African-American and Latino middle school boys through cool hands-on activities.
Princeton University manages PPPL, which is part of the national laboratory system funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Office of Science. The PPPL program is one of numerous National Week at the Labs events taking place across the country in which U.S. Department of Energy facilities will open their doors to some 5,000 elementary, middle and high school students with the goal of sparking their interest in the STEM fields. National Week at the Labs includes participants in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, a public-private initiative designed to inspire boys and young men of color to graduate from high school, go to college or career training, and pursue successful careers. The White House Council on Women and Girls is also involved in the event.
“Getting these kids excited about doing some hands-on science and engineering is key to sparking their interest outside of the classroom and hopefully sparking a career in a STEM-related field, so I applaud the president’s initiative,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Science Education at PPPL. “I’m glad the Secretary of Energy has been an active part of that and the national laboratories are all participating in My Brother’s Keeper.”
The United States has more than a half-million job openings in STEM fields, including computer science. The goal of National Week at the Labs is designed to expose students to scientists and engineers working in the STEM fields and connect them with potential role models and mentors. My Brother’s Keeper recently began a new MBK STEM track that is focusing on encouraging more boys and young men of color to enter the STEM fields. More information about the White House initiative is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper.
“These boys are a growing segment of our population,” President Obama said when he launched the program two years ago. “They are our future workforce. When generation after generation, they lag behind, our economy suffers. Our civic life suffers. Cycles of hopelessness breed violence and mistrust. And our country is a little less than what we know it can be. So we need to change the statistics – not just for the sake of the young men and boys, but for the sake of America’s future.”
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert is expected to attend the event at PPPL along with other local officials.
The middle-schoolers – whose school participates in My Brother’s Keeper – will break into groups to watch the cryogenics and plasma science demonstrations and take part in an hour of hands-on science activities in which they will build circuits, electromagnets, and motors.
Such activities help students learn to think like a scientist. “Thinking critically, scientifically and analytically is something that’s really important for everyone no matter what career they pursue,” Zwicker said.
“It’s an opportunity for us to show them that science is cool and get them excited about science,” said Program Leader Shannon Greco, who is leading the hands-on activities, and who was recently named a “Woman of Excellence” by the Princeton YWCA for her work with young women and underserved populations. “If they can explore these things with their own two hands and make things and explore, they’ll have a sense of achievement and they’ll build a sense of identity as scientists or engineers. With that experience, it becomes real to them.”
The schedule for the My Brother’s Keeper event at PPPL is:
9:30 a.m. - Students will watch a recorded message by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz
10 a.m. - PPPL Senior Program Leader Arturo Dominguez of the Science Education department, will give an overview of research at PPPL and answer questions
10:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
The groups will be divided into three revolving groups for each one-hour session. Each group will get a chance to watch cryogenics demonstrations in the MBG Auditorium, view plasma demonstrations in the Overlook area, and participate in a one-hour hands-on science workshop in the Science Education Laboratory in which they will build circuits, electromagnets, and motors.
12:15 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. - Closing remarks.