High school campers learn from science researcher

The Physical Science Careers Camp at NIU is getting a reboot this summer, offering high school students new hands-on opportunities to explore careers in chemistry and physics.

At the helm of this newly redesigned camp is Kate Powers, a STEM educator in the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement and an experienced research chemist who is excited to share her knowledge with campers.

“I earned my M.S. at the University of Alberta studying inorganic synthetic chemistry, so I have extensive hands-on experience in the lab,” Powers says. “I know the value of working on an open-ended experiment without any ‘correct’ answer at the end, and I am excited to give students the opportunity to work on a project like that. I also have B.F.A. in Design from NIU so I like bringing a creative solution style to the lab.”

Campers in the NIU Physical Science Careers Camp learn from experts on a guided tour of Fermilab.

The Physical Science Careers Camp is one of eight different STEM Career Exploration Camps offered by NIU STEM Outreach. The Career Exploration Camps are weeklong residential camps for students entering grades nine through 12. NIU faculty and staff in several colleges and Career Services, as well as local professionals, will staff specialized tracks in coding, engineering, 3-D design and manufacturing, health sciences, physical sciences, social hacking and video game design.

NIU STEM Outreach Camp Director Jeremy Benson says, “For the careers’ camps, we believe it’s important for the kids to get a hands-on introduction to the types of skills and projects that are important in different fields. Not just learning about what others do, but getting a chance to do some of these activities for themselves. We also like to take a deeper look into some of the possible career options and explore possibilities the students may not even know existed.”

“The variety of STEM careers is huge and there are so many options that many high school students have never heard of before,” Powers adds. “We want the students to be able to make informed decisions, not only about their interests but also employment availability when they decide what to study in college.”

This year’s campers can expect to benefit from Powers’ research experience with an expanded curriculum combining chemistry and physics with the principles of product design.

“The campers will be designing a high-powered battery,” Powers says. “It will be a completely open-ended project where the students will get to experiment with every aspect of the battery, from electrolyte to anodes and cathodes. Once they have perfected their batteries they will power model space rovers. Research into batteries and energy storage is a crucial and fast-growing field.”

In addition to conducting applied research, students will have a chance to meet with various professionals in the field. One of the highlights of the camp is the annual tour of Fermilab national particle physics and accelerator laboratory. “Many of NIU’s physics faculty members also do research at Fermilab,” says Benson. “This allows us to take campers into areas that aren’t usually open to the general public and gives campers a chance to discuss and interact with scientists doing top-level research in the field.”

For more information or to register for STEM Career Camps, visit http://niu.edu/stem/programs/camps. A searchable list of all NIU summer camps is available online.

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