Quantum science and technology is one of the most exciting fields today. But it is also an area with a critical shortage of trained experts. In an effort to expose high school students to quantum scientists and potential careers in the field, two Chicago Quantum Exchange researchers spoke to more than 60 high schoolers, their parents and teachers this month.
The seminar was part of Argonne Live!, a virtual STEM Outreach program that brings scientists from across a wide range of topics to high schoolers across the nation. The two scientists, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor Brian DeMarco, and University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering graduate student Elena Glen, shared the basics of quantum science, a bit about their research, and details about their (sometimes unexpected) career pathways.
DeMarco, who initially wanted to be an artist, described how he learned about and ended up pursuing a career in quantum physics. His career in this area started during a discussion with a physics department chair during a college visit.
“We started talking about quantum mechanics, which I knew a little about. I was really interested in quantum physics because I felt that there were some things that just didn’t make sense,” DeMarco said. “So, we started talking about how atoms behave, and I asked a lot of questions. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what [he] was telling me…and that actually got me hooked on quantum science for life.”
DeMarco now leads a large research group that focuses on using ultracold atoms and molecules to solve fundamental physics problems, like how electrons behave in exotic materials, and to develop quantum technologies, such as quantum information processors. He is also the associate head for undergraduate programs in physics for the university.
Glen, a PhD student studying spin defects in semiconducting materials, shared a bit about her research and what attracted her to the field in the first place.
“I started off as an electrical engineer and realized that I hated electrical engineering and computers and switched to physics later on in my university career,” said Glen. “In high school I had no idea that I would be going to graduate school. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was sort of deciding between political science and engineering, so this sort of career choice was made pretty late on.”
The Argonne Live! program was developed by Jessica Burgess, Argonne’s Education and Outreach Lead, during the pandemic to reach students. Burgess, who has a background rich in science communication and education, moderates the events to help scientists share their experiences, interests and stories. Argonne Live! for high schoolers takes place every Friday morning at 10 a.m. CDT, and for middle schoolers on Monday mornings at 10 a.m. CDT.