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Girls’ STEM Conference a success at Princeton University

More than 700 girls in grades 7 to 10 got a taste of what it is involved in computer coding and also learned about plasma science, artificial intelligence and other topics at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s annual Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics conference on March 22.

Girls from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware gathered to take part in the annual STEM conference, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and which was held at Princeton University.

“There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. They loved all of it,” said Deedee Ortiz, a program manager in Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s Science Education Department and who organized the conference.

The girls took part in more than 40 activities and also had a chance to meet female scientists and engineers. The goal was to spark girls’ interest in science as a career and to change the statistics that show women are still lagging behind men in the STEM fields.

Women earn 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, but only 36 percent of those degrees are in STEM. Women occupy 60 percent of social science occupations and 48 percent of life science occupations – but only 26 percent of computer and mathematical science occupations and only 13 percent of engineers, according to the National Science Foundation.

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory had several tables at the exhibition hall at Princeton University’s Frick Chemistry Laboratory. The Women in Engineering Group set up a table where the girls could learn about magnets and circuits.

There were exhibits that offered hands-on plasma experiments, and a booth set up by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s Emergency Services Unit where girls could try on firefighters’ turnout gear.

Princeton High School junior Anisha Iyer said she liked the variety of activities. There were a lot of different booths and a lot of different things to do, she said. “It’s interesting,” she added.

The girls were treated to a chemistry show by Kitty Wagner of Princeton University’s Chemistry Department, and also listened to a panel discussion by three early-career women scientists.

The keynote speaker, Tammy Ma, told the students that she wanted to be a scientist as a young girl. She initially wanted to be an astronaut, but she decided that she really liked school.

“I decided to go to graduate school at the University of California at San Diego and get my fill of surfing. Now, I’m a physicist,” said Ma, who is a plasma physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Ignition Facility.

The Lawrence Livermore National Ignition Facility is focused on creating fusion energy to generate electricity from a process called inertial confinement fusion, while the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is trying to do the same thing through a different technique called magnetic fusion. The goal is to create fusion energy.

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