Stellar Scientists at Tinley Park High School


Jenna Skanberg, Staff Writer

The eight students participating in Tinley Park’s Exemplary Student Research Program (ESRP) are a fascinating group. These students, under the guidance of Mr. Birrel, explore the mysteries of the physical world through experiments done at Argonne National Laboratories. On February 20, 2020, the group began their experimentation process in a trip to Argonne. The following weeks will be full of exciting developments.

This year, Tinley Park High School’s ESRP is using the equipment at Argonne to analyse the magnetic properties of metals. They will do this by using a special microscope. Interestingly, this microscope is the only one of its kind in the world. The microscope, called a synchrotron x-ray scanning tunneling microscope (SX-STM), brings a hair-thin metal tip so close to a substance that it can view individual atoms. In addition, x-ray currents are sent through the microscope, to the sample, allowing particles from the sample to eject themselves and hit the tip of the microscope. These ejected particles, called electrons, are what the microscope uses to pick up information about the sample.

The SX-STM has the unique ability to move the x-rays in a specific way. Sending specific x-rays allows only certain electrons to eject from the sample being viewed. Once the researchers know from where each electron ejects, they can determine which parts of their sample are magnetic. This process is very interesting because it will allow scientists to find, or prove, information in ways which were not possible before the invention of the SX-STM. The Tinley Park High School ESRP will be one of the first groups of people to experiment with magnetic materials with this technology.

During their trip to Argonne, the ESRP students familiarized themselves with the equipment that they will use for their research. They got an up-close tour of the microscope, which filled an entire room, and they were even able to touch some parts of the microscope. In addition, the students were provided an in-depth explanation of the equipment by the people who designed and built it. Overall, the trip was a very informative and hands-on experience for the student researchers. With a deeper understanding of their research, the students can move forward with success.

After all the data has been collected, the ESRP will make a poster that reports and analyses all of their findings. At a conference in April, they will share this poster with ESRP programs from other schools. In past years, this convention has been a great way for the students of Tinley Park High School to show off their scientific skills and learn something new.