Girls unleash power of physics during High School Science Day at Penn State

On Saturday, about 20 high school girls from across the commonwealth participated in science projects and activities at Penn State that are otherwise not available to them in their everyday classrooms.

“It’s awesome,” said Ulysses Yarber, 15, a student at the State College Area School District’s Delta Program. “I’m definitely thinking about doing something in science in my future.”

High School Science Day for female high school students is an annual event sponsored by the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Each year, the event is hosted at different colleges across the country as an educational outreach program urging women to get involved in the sciences.

The conference’s goal is to help women continue in physics by providing them with opportunities to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics of all ages with whom they can network with.

“I think it’s empowering. Female students are underrepresented in the sciences,” said graduate student Alex Hagen. “We’re aiming to get these students interested in the sciences.”

This year, Penn State hosted the event for the first time along with seven other universities including Florida State, Maryland and Utah.

Keynote speaker Debra Fischer, professor of astronomy at Yale, was the centerpiece of the daylong event, while a handful of graduate science students guided the high school girls along with four hands-on workshops.

“It’s fun for us because we don’t get to play and do these kinds of experiments every day,” said event coordinator Rachel Worth, a graduate student and doctoral candidate in astrophysics. “We’re having fun and educating the girls. Our goal is to do a lot of outreach like this and I think we’re doing a good job reaching out into the community.”

In addition to making comets, the teens were able to fly paper airplanes using different methods, create a levitation experiment, and sit in on the planetarium.

For 16-year-old Courtney Crable, of Bellefonte, her favorite experiment was watching a balloon shrink when put in liquid nitrogen.

“It’s cool to do these experiments and see how different chemicals can make different things,” Crable said.

Worth said she’s not sure if the university will host the event next year, but hopes to be more proactive in the community when it comes to educating youth in the sciences.

“It’s gotten a really positive response,” Worth said. “We can only hope that an event like this goes a long way in influencing and inspiring young girls in this kind of profession.”