Jennifer McDermott, a senior at William Floyd High School, was recently invited to serve as a member of an International Women’s Day Conference panel focused on celebrating the accomplishments of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at Stony Brook University. She was the only high school student invited to serve as a panelist alongside university and Department of Energy researchers and professors, as well as PhD students. Sponsored by the Stony Brook University Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and Brookhaven Women in Science (BWIS), featured lecturers and panelists discussed the impact of women in STEM careers, on the work environment, on the economy, and how society can improve women’s participation in STEM.
“This was an incredible experience for me because I had the opportunity to listen to many amazing women speak about their lives and careers,” said McDermott. “It opened my mind to many careers that I did not know about before. Being part of the panel among these amazing women reminded me that I represent young women on the path toward becoming the female scientists of the future.”
McDermott had the opportunity to speak about high school advanced placement science courses and her experience conducting research at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) under the direction of Dr. Helio Takai, an Experimental Nuclear and Particle Physicist at BNL with affiliations at Stony Brook University and CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).
In her research project at BNL, McDermott worked with a group of students and physics teachers to use the inexpensive computing power of a Raspberry Pi and Arduino (palm-sized single-board microcontrollers) to create a system that collects data from a variety of sensors and stores the data on Google Drive, from which it could be analyzed. She specifically worked on programming the Arduino to read a variety of sensors at timed intervals. The team completed the project and a research paper last summer. She still occasionally works with Dr. Takai to make further improvements to the system.
Referencing her time and the opportunities at William Floyd, McDermott said she has been “incredibly fortunate to have amazing and inspiring science and math teachers” who made her “love the subjects” that they taught. One teacher in particular, Cristina Brazzelli, really kindled her interest in pursuing a career in the STEM disciplines. “Mrs. Brazzelli’s confidence in me inspired me to research STEM careers and to apply to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology),” said McDermott, adding that she could not be more grateful for all that she did for her. Brazzelli left William Floyd last year to teach physics at an international school in Switzerland and to be closer to her husband, a physicist at CERN. McDermott was accepted to MIT and will be attending in the fall.
As a junior, McDermott, along with peers from William Floyd and neighboring districts, participated in an international physics masterclass where they analyzed data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider ATLAS experiment (the search for new discoveries studying the head-on collisions of extraordinarily high-energy protons). She was the student chosen to present the results via a live videoconference with CERN physicists and postdoctoral researchers at Michigan State University.
“We are very proud of the programs we offer our students and especially proud of Jennifer and her accomplishments,” said Lisa Lackemann, Science Chair, William Floyd High School. “Her experiences at William Floyd, BNL and Stony Brook University will serve her well. She has a promising future in any STEM career that she chooses.”
At MIT, McDermott is interested in pursuing a career in mathematics – possibly actuarial science and/or operations research. She feels that she will be able to explore her interests in management sciences, mathematics and various scientific fields.