LANL launches Indigenous Women in Physics program

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Arielle Platero, senior at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and a member of the Navajo Nation, just received a physics mentorship at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Courtesy of Arielle Platero)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Arielle Platero was born in Fort Defiance, Arizona in the Navajo Nation and raised in Farmington in a single parent family.

Now 33 years old and a graduate in engineering and mathematics, majoring in physics at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, Platero was chosen to participate in a paid mentorship program with physicists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. as part of a joint LANL-Fort project. Lewis supports Indigenous undergraduate students pursuing careers in physics.

“My mother raised me and my little sister and we lived on the outskirts of town,” Platero said in a recent telephone interview. “It was tough, I know my mom struggled and we got through it. She has always been very encouraging to my sister and I, going to school and finishing our studies.

Platero is the mother of two daughters: Claire, 10, and Natalie, 8.

light pointNow, with the mentorship and the prospect of studying in the future, she realizes that this is one more step on the path. “It’s been a long journey, for sure, to get here,” Platero said.

“I always had an interest in math growing up – math and science – and it wasn’t until I worked at Raytheon (Technologies) on the reserve… I got to see the engineers doing their job. and that sounded very interesting to me, so that’s where my interest in engineering started.

She never really thought about physics until she started attending San Juan College. “Engineering and physics went hand in hand…” she said.

The two-year, $ 195,000 LANL program, launched in mid-November, includes 10 weeks in the lab and mentoring throughout the year. It is funded by the Ministry of Energy. Officials are looking “to make this a more permanent program,” said Astrid Morreale, a researcher in the Particle Physics and Applications group at LANL and co-leader of the program.

“In my field of physics, which is high energy nuclear physics… generally the presence of people of Native American descent… is actually very low, which is low to zero,” Morreale said.

When Laurie Williams, Dean of the Physics and Engineering Department at Fort Lewis College, learned of the Mentorship Grant’s existence, she sent out a flyer and emails asking interested Indigenous women to submit a letter of interest.

The other successful candidate is Fort Lewis senior Julie Nelson of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.

Arielle Platero, 33, is majoring in engineering and mathematics, with a specialization in physics. She participates in a paid mentorship program to support Indigenous undergraduate students. (Courtesy of Arielle Platero)

“Arielle and Julie are both excellent students,” Williams said, adding that they were both mothers and both wanted to pursue higher education.

Mentorships are “offered to two women per year majoring in physics at Fort Lewis College,” with the goal of “building a talent pool from undergraduate in the Four Corners area to graduate programs and potential careers in physics, including at the national level. labs such as Los Alamos, ”LANL said in a press release.

Platero found out in October that she had secured the mentorship.

“Once I got it I was very excited,” she said. “I am encouraged to pursue my PhD, I am really excited about the prospect, I think this internship will really pave the way towards this goal. “

Careers at LANL are “absolutely” a possibility for students, Morreale said. “I hope that with the coverage they have now… there will be universities that give them some really good deals for graduate studies…”

While the laws of physics may be taken for granted by many in everyday life, for students like Platero the laws are liberating.

“Much of the world is governed by physics, forces, and the way matter interacts, and it’s such an interesting topic that helps explain the natural phenomenon in the world,” she said.

Platero never left the country, but an upcoming two-week trip to CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, to the Franco-Swiss border is a highlight of the program.

“Students will descend more than 300 feet below the French countryside to visit one of the Large Hadron Collider’s detection experiments, which studies the properties of subatomic particles, and will spend time examining the data collected and interacting with the global cohort of students and researchers. who come to work at CERN, ”said LANL in its press release.

Platero also thinks it’s important to pass on the mantle of his good fortune.

“I would like to encourage the young generation of Diné or Navajo, even if they are… afraid to pursue their dreams, it is not impossible to go there… and hope for the best”, he said. she declared. “Don’t stop trying to achieve your goals.”


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