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Fermi opens doors to community

Docent Mike Cooke leads tour linear accelerator Sunday during Family Open House Sunday Fermilab. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

Docent Mike Cooke leads a tour of the linear accelerator Sunday during Family Open House Sunday at Fermilab. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 12, 2013 6:26AM

Staff and scientists that work at the Fermilab in Batavia don’t mince words when it comes to the passion they have for science and getting kids hooked on it.

“We absolutely think it’s important that kids be exposed to science and that we begin to develop the next generation of scientists,” said Spencer Pasero, education program leader at Fermilab.

A crowd that was expected to number anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 kids from throughout the Chicago area as well as across the country got the full immersion experience Sunday as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory hosted its 7th annual Family Open House on from 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights included the ever popular “Mr. Freeze” demonstration as Jerry Zimmerman offered a chance for visitors to see the cooling effects of liquid nitrogen.

Other highlights included a “FUNdamental Physics” presentation as well as a historical talk given by Herman White entitled “Great Science on the Prairie.” Students from area high schools including both Naperville North and Central also provided demonstrations on static electricity, magnetism, and the polarization of light.

Pasero said the target age for the event was kids between the ages of 8 and 14 and that about 20 scientist and engineers would be on hand to offer demonstrations and answer questions.

“We also have some behind-the-scenes tours like our SeaQuest experiment that are already completely booked up,” he said.

The atmosphere Sunday afternoon had an almost carnival flavor as kids scurried from one exhibit to the next. Gabriel Gulumian, 11, of Hanover Park, said he had heard about “Mr. Freeze” through friends of his and that the presentation was going to the highlight of his visit.

“A lot of my friends said Mr. Freeze was fun, so I wanted to check it out,” Gabriel said. “I’m thinking of becoming a scientist one day — maybe something to do with chemicals.”

Ken Wilson of Geneva brought his two children, Zach, 9, and his daughter Katie, 7. Wilson said a roommate of his he has known for 20 years since their college days invited him to come out Sunday and join him.

“I think it’s important we expose kids to science, and we should do whatever it takes to get them into it,” he said.

Zach said that chemistry was his favorite area of science and that likes doing experiments.

“I’m not sure what area I might work it someday, but I know I’m good at science,” he said.

Naperville North senior Sean Vandril, 17, was busy showing off 3D glasses to kids that came to visit his school’s physics club exhibit. Vandril explained that 3D works using vertical and horizontal planes that block light.

“We worked on this exhibit for about three months, and our club is dedicated to ‘cool’ science,” he said. “I want to be a mechanical engineer when I go to college and I think that science is the key to answering a lot of our big problems.”

Across the hall from Naperville North’s location, students from sister school Naperville Central, representing the GEMS or the Girls Engineers Mathematics and Scientists Club offered electrostatic exhibits. Club sponsor Katherine Seguino, chairman of the science department, said the club has 25 members and that this was the third year her students have appeared at the Fermilab event.

“This was just a grass roots effort at the school about six years ago and some of the girls have gone on to colleges like IIT and majored in science,” she said.

Club president Cassidy Schneider, 16, a junior at Naperville Central, said she has always been interested in science “and never grew out of it.”

“I can remember when I was little thinking ‘space’ was cool,” she said. “I’ve been in the club for three years, and nowadays I feel like girls are getting more involved in science, which was something always dominated by men. Looking at the future, ‘STEM’ or science, technology, engineering, and math are going to be where jobs will come from.”

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