Department of Energy

STEM: An Integral Part of Ames Laboratory’s Mission

April 27, 2018

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Ames Lab: Woodbury Central students
Student team from Woodbury Central competing in the 2018 Ames Laboratory Middle School Science Bowl.
Ames Laboratory

The mission of Ames Laboratory is to create materials, inspire minds to solve problems, and address global challenges. One of Ames Laboratory’s core values states “We inspire future generations by exciting them about science.” We take that mission seriously and it’s just part of the culture here. That may sound generic, but it truly is part and parcel of everything we do.

To understand Ames Laboratory’s commitment to STEM education, you need to realize just how closely integrated the Lab is with its contractor, Iowa State University. You may have heard that Ames Laboratory is the only one of DOE’s National Laboratories physically located on the campus of a major research university.

Iowa State students walking down the hallways in the chemistry or physics buildings can pass through a doorway and be standing in an Ames Laboratory building. ISU students routinely pass by and through our buildings and they know what Ames Laboratory is and does.

Many of our scientific staff hold dual appointments within departments across campus and at Ames Laboratory. Some are housed within Laboratory buildings and others within space the Laboratory rents from Iowa State. To say we have a close working relationship with ISU is an understatement.

So it should come as no surprise that we are highly involved in the training and education of students at all levels from undergraduates to postdocs. Students make up a large and valuable part of our workforce – 56 undergraduates, 192 graduate students, and 45 postdocs currently do work for the Laboratory. 

2017 Visiting Faculty Program student Ariana Alvarez from Texas A&M University
2017 Visiting Faculty Program (VFP) student Ariana Alvarez from Texas A&M University—San Antonio works in the laboratory.
Ames Laboratory

Through our year-round Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program, and summer Community College Internship and Visiting Faculty Programs, students and faculty from around the country come to gain valuable hands-on laboratory experience working closely with our researchers. Since the start of the SULI program in 2005, nearly 300 undergraduates from 164 colleges and universities have participated and 14 of them have returned to Iowa State as graduate students.

Ames Laboratory is also a charter participant in the National Science Bowl, hosting both high school and middle school regional competitions each year. More than 5,300 high school students and 1,250 middle school students have participated in our events. Our scientific and operations staff actively volunteer for the events because we appreciate the role Science Bowl plays in recognizing student achievement in science and math.

Dr. Emma White, Ames scientist
Dr. Emma White, Ames scientist
Ames Laboratory

Over the years, a number of students have become part of Ames Laboratory’s research team, but none of their stories quite compare with the ongoing connection and interactions between the Lab and Dr. Emma White, a scientist in our advanced powder synthesis group.

Emma’s first encounter with Ames Laboratory occurred in 2004 when she and her twin sister Molly were members of the Des Moines Lincoln High School Science Bowl team. The team also included another set of twin sisters – Ru-Shyan and Ru-Huey Yen. All four continued in STEM fields in materials engineering, aerospace engineering, medicine, and architecture, respectively, upon graduating from high school.

As an undergraduate student in Iowa State’s Materials Science and Engineering Department, many of Emma’s instructors were also Ames Laboratory researchers. She worked for Ames Lab associate Mufit Akinc on bioceramics in our Spedding Hall research facility. That led to graduate school, where Ames Lab scientist Iver Anderson was one of her co-advisors. After earning her Ph.D. in 2014, she took a position as a postdoc researcher in Anderson’s advanced powder synthesis group. In 2016, we hired her as a full-time research associate.

In many ways, Emma’s journey exemplifies Ames Laboratory’s commitment to STEM education. We help nurture an early interest in science, provide educational opportunities to learn from some of the top scientists in their fields, and then retain that next generation, if possible, as they embark on successful careers.