CHICAGO, IL – As part of a science education initiative he launched earlier this year to inspire young people to pursue careers in mathematics and the sciences, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham hosted more than 500 Chicago-area seventh- and eighth-graders and their teachers today at the inaugural Department of Energy “What’s Next Expo” at the Navy Pier in downtown Chicago.
The event featured talks by Secretary Abraham and the lead researcher in a DOE-funded project designed to help restore sight through science for blind people affected by retinal disorders. Students then toured the nearly 50 interactive and instructional exhibits of cutting-edge science and technology exhibits provided and staffed by science professionals from 14 of DOE’s national laboratories and a number of private companies.
“At DOE’s national laboratories we support scientists and researchers working on every sort of experiment you can think of – and some that even the most imaginative here might not believe,” Secretary Abraham said. “We handle everything from creating new organisms that will literally eat pollution, to devising systems for cars to run not on gasoline but hydrogen, to powering NASA’s rockets and the Navy’s ships and submarines, to coming up with the detection equipment that will stop terrorists from threatening our cities with nuclear weapons.”
“I have a big interest in finding the scientists and the engineers of the future because you may well be the stars at DOE years down the road that help us fulfill our energy, environmental and national security missions.”
“To intensify our efforts to get and to keep interested in science,” Abraham told the students, he launched the DOE Scientists Teaching And Reaching Students (STARS) science education initiative in July. The STARS program is designed to enhance the training of America’s mathematics and science teachers; boost student achievement in science and math, especially in the critical middle school years; and draw attention to DOE scientists that have been instrumental in cutting edge discoveries. More information about the STARS program and the labs’ science education offerings is available via the Internet www.science.doe.gov.
“This What’s Next Expo is full of fascinating and creative ideas and protoypes,” Secretary Abraham told the seventh- and eighth-graders. “The technologies you are seeing today take time and money to create, but the most important ingredient in their success is imagination. You can see how yesterday’s daydreams have become today’s discoveries.”
Two Chicago-area DOE national laboratories provided nearly 20 of the exhibits. Argonne National Laboratory offered educational booths about chemistry, materials, meteorology, its “Ask A Scientist” online information service and the sciences of toys, for example, while Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory had informational displays about invisible forces and reading and measuring invisible particles, among others. Additional exhibits were provided by DOE’s Ames Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Energy Technology Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
To help them navigate the many exhibits set up around Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom, students were given special What’s Next “Passports,” which featured a message from the Secretary, a map and a list of exhibits and exhibitors and asked to get their passports stamped at least 10 of the learning stations.
“We decided to hold an annual science conference to highlight the most exciting new areas of science and technology that are being studied in the U.S. and around the world,” Secretary Abraham told the Chicago-area middle-schoolers. “This What’s Next Expo is the very first of these conferences – and I congratulate you all for being pioneers. I sincerely hope that someday in the future, when one of you steps up to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics or Chemistry, you can say you owe it in part to What’s Next.”
During the What’s Next Expo, Secretary Abraham also announced that five DOE national laboratories, a private company and three universities have signed agreements to speed the design and development of an artificial retina for the blind. More information about the retina research compact is available at www.science.doe.gov.
Michael Waldron, 202/586-4940
Jeff Sherwood, 202/586-5806