Exemplary Student Research Program (ESRP) Inspires Next Generation of Researchers

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The ESRP, now in its ninth year, welcomed 137 students and 23 teachers from 17 diverse Chicagoland high schools for the 2019–2020 school year. It is one of the few elite programs in the world to provide high school students with the opportunity to conduct research using advanced light sources and microscopy, and to join the more than 6,000 scientists who use the APS and CNM.

The program, which welcomes one team from each participating high school, comprising a teacher and a group of up to 15 students, begins in August when the teachers attend an introductory workshop at Argonne. Following the workshop, school teams are matched with a scientist working at the APS or CNM, who provides research expertise for the students’ projects.

For the next several months, teams prepare their research proposals and develop their experiments so their samples are ready when they conduct research at the APS beamlines or CNM in the early spring semester. During the months of development, the Argonne mentors assist in all stages of the process while also being resources to the students, helping them learn more about scientific research.

After months of preparation, the students visit the Argonne campus in February or March to collect their data at the APS. Once teams have collected and analyzed their data, they design a professional poster showcasing their research, which the students present in the spring at the APS/CNM Users Meeting Poster Session at Argonne. (Unfortunately, the 2020 Users Meeting was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but program organizers are pursuing alternatives to recognize participating students for their work.)

Lakes Community High School participated in the ESRP for the first time in 2019–2020. “I am very grateful for the opportunity to expose the students to the highest-end technology in the nation that helps make connections to real-world applications,” said Irina Stan, the Lakes teacher who led the team. “The research ignites a love for learning and innovation. Students hope and dream, and they learn about technology that seems out of reach and years ahead.”