Sign her up for PPPL’s virtual Young Women’s Conference

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is inviting seventh- to tenth-grade girls to step into the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at PPPL’s annual Young Women’s Conference on May 7, this year online.

The day of science will be held on a virtual platform where young women can watch live and videotaped science demonstrations, talk to women working in STEM fields, and listen to an inspiring talk by a female scientist.

Free for seventh- to tenth-graders

The event is free and open to both teachers “bringing” groups of girls from schools and to individual seventh- to tenth-graders. The link to register is available on the Young Women’s Conference website here.

Organizer Deedee Ortiz, PPPL’s Science Education program manager, said she was determined to hold the conference online this year and was happy when she found a platform offered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) that could host the conference. “The virtual 2021 YWC is a team effort between ORAU and PPPL,” Ortiz said. “While it won’t be the same as the usual in-person conference, we are thrilled that we were able to come up with a way to make it happen for the participants. I’m really proud that we have an alternative. It’s for the girls … They look forward to it and this could be the little nudge that one little girl needs to say, ‘Alright, I’ll try it.’ If we didn’t do it, that might be a lost chance.”

The idea is to spark girls’ interest in science and to change statistics that show women still lag far behind men in the STEM fields. While 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, they represent only 36 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM. And while 60 percent of social science occupations are occupied by women and 48 percent of life sciences, women represent only 26 percent of computer and mathematical science occupations and only 13 percent of engineers, according to the National Science Foundation.

“We are so glad to be able to offer an online version of this event, which has introduced countless young women to STEM,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Communications and Public Outreach. “And I’m proud to offer this event during this challenging year when so many educational opportunities have been suspended.”

Ortiz said she is especially happy to be able to offer the conference since last year’s conference was canceled after both PPPL and Princeton University curtailed on-site operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “That was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” she said. “I know how much the girls love it. I get so many emails and letters about how inspirational the event is.”

The online conference, which is funded by the DOE Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences program, will follow the format of live events, with girls making their way through booths, stopping to see a chemistry show by Kathryn Wagner, a lecturer, demonstrator and outreach director in chemistry at Princeton University, and talking to female scientists and engineers in breakout rooms, culminating with a keynote speech by a prominent female scientist.

F.B.I. forensics, robotics, and more at virtual booths

More than a dozen exhibitors will have displays at virtual “booths.” Forensics experts from the F.B.I., a popular exhibit in the past, will be back with live forensics demonstrations. There will also be a live artificial intelligence presentation by TechGirls, and science demonstrations from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, WAGS Robotics, and coding and robotics teams from local high schools. The exhibitors will all be on hand to answer questions during or after the presentations.

The event will culminate with a keynote speech in the virtual Melvin B. Gottlieb Auditorium (patterned after PPPL’s real-life auditorium) by Stephanie (Steffi) Diem, a plasma physicist who has been active in science education and outreach activities. Diem is a professor in the Engineering Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the Fusion Energy Division.

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