Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, May 14, 1999  |  Number 10
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

No Sun but Still Fun

Rainy day doesn’t put a damper on spirits for DASTOW 1999

by Mike Perricone

Once again, Fermilab’s secret is out: science isn’t just a lot of numbers and equations.

"It was fun," wrote five-year-old Cara Zagel on her web page journal for the day. "When I grow up I’d like to work at Fermilab."

While rain canceled the seeding and tree-planting scheduled for the Arbor Day celebration (rescheduled for April 29), more than 200 parents and children participated in the fourth annual Daughters And Sons To Work Day activities on April 22. The youngsters all had commemorative posters to take home at the end of the day—posters produced in rapid response by Fermilab’s Visual Media Services, with photographs recording the day’s activities.

Their day began with a group portrait on the front steps of Wilson Hall, followed by a gathering in Ramsey Auditorium for the keynote presentation by Director of Laboratory Services Kay Van Vreede.

Van Vreede spoke about the many different professions it takes to run a laboratory, from scientists to groundskeepers to secretaries. She emphasized how useful it is to try out many different ideas while you’re growing up, illustrating her point with a photo of herself as a nine-year-old ballerina. When the time comes to make a career choice, Van Vreede’s advice was simple: "Follow your heart."

The tone of the day ranged from the warmth of Van Vreede’s message in the morning, to the surprising effects demonstrated in Jerry Zimmerman’s cryogenics presentation at Ramsey Auditorium that afternoon.

After a hot dog lunch in the Wilson Hall cafeteria, Zimmerman had parents and kids alike mesmerized by the effects of ultra-cold temperatures on everyday objects. Cryogenics are an essential factor in operating Fermilab’s particle accelerators. Metals cooled to temperatures near absolute zero (around -270 degrees C or -450 degrees F) lose their resistance to conducting electricity, enabling electromagnets to carry large amounts of current and generate large magnetic fields.

Wrote Yannick Kwan, age 10: "The Cryogenic demo showed what happens when you put liquid nitrogen into bags and bottles with caps. It turns out it blows up from the pressure! Also, if you put a balloon into liquid nitrogen (the balloon) shrinks, and how about a glove? It cracks like glass! Liquid nitrogen is below about -400F! I thought Fermilab was boring, but it is really fun! (Even though Arbor Day was cancelled.)"

The Lederman Science Education Center was the headquarters for kids to compile their web page journals for the day, with 18 computers available in the Technical Classroom. The Science Education Center exhibits were a major attraction for the day, including the lab with microscopes available for viewing.

New to the day’s program were morning tours of the Fermilab Fire Department, and an afternoon visit to the barn where the Lab’s herd of 45 American bison are maintained. The Fire Department was ready with special kid-size equipment to demonstrate this critical aspect of Lab life.

But even a subject as serious as fighting fires was a high-spirited experience.

"I’m not sure who had more fun, the kids, the parents or us," said fire fighter Chuck Kuhn.

The Fire Department tour was part of the day’s extensive mentoring activities, with 20 Lab professionals offering hour-long sessions with youngsters to talk about their careers and how their work fits into the big picture of the Lab’s operations.

Amy Wojciechowski, age 12, spent her mentoring session with experimental physicist Jay Dittmann, who told her he had become interested in physics when he was in the seventh grade at about her age. His interest had grown from a school science project investigating how fast different colors heat up.

"It was fun and I learned a lot from my mentor," Wojciechowski wrote in her web journal. "I am now interested in going into physics one day."

The major goal of the day, celebrated nationally, is to familiarize kids with what their parents do at their jobs. The behind-the-scenes look can reveal the range of experience from the fascinating to the routine.

Dennis Fashimpaur, 9, spent the day with his dad, technician Dennis Sr., compiling this list of his dad’s activities: "Fixes Internet Rack Monitors. Tests electronic equipment and makes electronic circuit boards. He also likes to drink coffee."

His comment on the day, which included lots of time working in his dad’s office and two sessions of brewing coffee: "I think it was great, because I got to spend time with my dad and he was my mentor. I got to see the cryo show and I like cryogenics. I like science. This was way more fun than school."

Another part of the secret that came out during the day: it wasn’t just the kids who were having fun. Mentors garnered plenty of rewards from their sessions with the kids, as described by physicist Dave Finley after a session that included the uncertainty principle, the difficulty in being "beamed up," working on the computer in the display on the 15th floor of Wilson Hall, and the universe’s absolute speed limit—the speed of light in a vacuum.

"It’s easier to say ‘warp drive’ than to make it work," Finley concluded. "I had a good time with Emily, Justin and Allison as a DASTOW mentor. Let’s do it again next year."

last modified 5/14/1999   email Fermilab