A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Expanding girls' horizons

12/28/09
Girls learn about physics concepts at the first European Expanding Your Horizons conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Girls learn about physics concepts at the first European Expanding Your Horizons conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ever thought that a physics class would teach you how to make your own comet with dry ice, water, and just a bit of sand? Or that math could be a gateway to the magic world of computing science behind software applications like Google? For the 250 girls who attended the first European Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference last month in Geneva, Switzerland, these and many more exciting workshops were on the menu.

EYH is a non-profit organization that has been active for 35 years in the United States and in Asia, encouraging young women to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. EYH Network programs provide role models and hands-on activities for middle and high school girls, introducing them to careers that they might have never considered.

“We all realize what is at stake, even if you don't have a daughter,” said Jennifer Kealy, managing director at Cascade Clinical Consulting and Geneva EYH conference chair. “Women must be involved in public policy decisions having to do with the future of our world, and most, if not all, of these issues have to do with science in some form or another—even art preservation. Girls will be short-changed in the 21st century if they drop out of math and science.”

More than 60 women scientists from Portugal, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the United States met the challenge of making science fun, enticing, and not at all intimidating. Volunteers led a total of 22 workshops in a wide variety of fields, including forensic crime scene investigation; the secrets of YouTube and Facebook; the physics of cooking; brain surgery; and create your own laundry detergent—‘dirt test” included.

First European Expanding Your Horizons ConferenceCERN was represented by an enthusiastic team of women from the ATLAS experiment, who taught girls to build their own cloud chamber, hunt for the Higgs boson, and learn about the super-cool properties of magnets at -270º C.

“The participants were great: interested, captivated, eager to discover new things,” said Pauline Gagnon, a physicist from Indiana University.

Julia Gray, a graduate student from Stony Brook University, went to the EYH event straight from an overnight shift in the ATLAS Control Room. “I was a bit afraid that after the girls built the cloud chamber and asked a few questions that they would lose interest and the hour would drag on. This was not the case at all,” marveled Gray. “The girls remained engaged the entire time, and before I knew it, the lights were coming on and our time together was over. I wanted more time to talk to them, and I think they felt the same!”

The girls weren’t the only ones inspired—the scientists were also peering in the neighboring rooms to see what was going on, and lining up alongside the participants to get a Google scarf. It’s no wonder that Kealy was struck by the “level of enthusiasm and passion exhibited by the women who gave up their time—especially on a Saturday—to volunteer for this cause.”

A handful of men were also present in the group of 60 parents who followed a parallel program. The parents’ program included workshops on sensitive issues such as cybersecurity and teenagers, and a keynote speech from Claudine Hermann, from the Grand Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, who presented original research on why girls do not choose to follow science and engineering careers.

One of the parents observed that EYH plays an important role in the education of girls, as it gets them to look at the future beyond the classroom, and to start projecting themselves into a real life after the years spent studying.

The first European EYH conference was sponsored by Aye & Partners Consulting, Cascade Clinical Consulting, Cisco, Google, Geneva Women in International Trade, Hewlett Packard, Honeywell, Thomson Reuters, and Merck Serono.

by Manuela Cirilli

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