Jeff West science students visit Argonne Lab in Chicago

by Rod Smith

It’s one thing to read about the latest research that will impact our future. It’s quite another to be able to actually visit Argonne National Lab, one of the world’s top research centers in many fields of science. That is what Jefferson West physics, advanced chemistry and advanced biology students and parents had the opportunity to do April 22.

Twenty-nine students and 12 parents made the trip to Chicago by chartered bus.

Having many parents participate allowed a wide variety of small group activities. Some went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Others to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Art Museum. One group watched the Cubs beat the Dodgers 10-8 at Wrigley Field. Others shopped.

“The one disappointment was not getting to go up to the John Hancock Observation Deck on a rainy Friday evening,” said Rod Smith, Jefferson West science teacher, who has taken a group to Chicago for 10 years. “When we gathered at the John Hancock Tower, they said there was absolutely zero visibility. It would have been like being surrounded by white clouds and not being able to see the lights of the city or Lake Michigan below. This was the first time in 10 years the weather was bad. But Saturday was perhaps the best weather ever — calm, mid-60s and partly cloudy.”

This was the first trip to the Argonne National Lab after nine years visiting FermiLab. Much of the research at FermiLab has moved to CERN in Switzerland.

“It was an experiment and I think it was highly successful,” said Smith. “Last August I personally took a day to fly up, rent a car and get a tour of the place. It’s pretty amazing.”

Last year Argonne researchers went to Centralia in order to use bacteria to “eat” carbon tetra-chloride, which had made some area farm fields unusable. There are research projects at Argonne being conducted by Kansas State University and Kansas University along with dozens of other universities and hundreds of private companies in an extensive list of experiments that operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At Argonne National Lab, students and parents had the opportunity to participate in three different hands-on labs: 1) Using liquid nitrogen to create super-conductoring magnets; 2) Using spectrometers to select a variety of electromagnetic wavelengths and determine unknown concentrations of a chemical; 3) Using X-ray fluorescence to identify the elements present in metal alloys.

“It was fun to watch as one girl said the necklace her boyfriend gave her was supposed to be real silver. It did have some,” said Smith.

A walking tour of the Advanced Photo Source included seeing some of the complex equipment used by hundreds of research projects to try to identify the structure of molecules.

“We got to see the equipment used to ‘trap’ a single atom,” said Smith. “Of course you can’t see the atom, just the complexity required to accomplish such a task. Lots of photos were taken of the huge piece of equipment used at the beginning of the movie ‘Incredible Hulk.’ ”

An unexpected sight was one of the rare white deer found in the 1,700 acres and surrounding Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. They are not albino but descendents of some brought from Russia by a man before ANL was established right after World War II. They are mainly nocturnal animals and the overcast rainy day provided the group a rare sight.

ANL was the first science and engineering research national laboratory in the United States. Research at Argonne occurs in four broad areas — basic science research, energy storage and renewable energy, environmental sustainability, and national security.

“This allowed us to expand the group to include our chemistry and biology students. Research at FermiLab is entirely physics. Argonne includes fundamental research in most fields of science — physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, nuclear, mining.

“An example of its extensive work is that they have a library with samples of coal from almost every coal mine in the entire world — ranging from a cupful to a cubic meter,” he said.

Participants paid their own way at a cost of $163 for students and $180 for parents. There was no cost to the school district.

Those joining Smith on the trip were Scott Debus, Rita Kennedy, Marissa Wright, Jessica Wells, Taylor Madeira, Jeff Kilgore, Terri Pearson, Nicci Feyh, Karissa Holloman, Cece Liby, Frankie Farrant, Selena Didinger, Jessie Pearson, Tristen Wright, Billy Garner, Amy Garner, Marcia Ricklefs, Cyra Behrendt, Katie Ricklefs, Elaine Ice, Patty Wells, Terri Dean, Richard Schmidt, Lysette Anderson, Tanner Clark, Laura Newberry, Taryn Brees, Noah Livingston, Tabatha Bell, Danielle Steffey, Micah Duncan, Josh Fritz, Sam Real, Pam Farrant, Doug Madeira, Killian Madeira, Phyllis Madeira, Rena Kilgore, Kegan Kennedy, Ryan Debus, Mark Flood, and Dalton Dean.

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Posted by on May 18 2011. Filed under Featured, Jefferson West School District, Schools. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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