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FLC partners with Los Alamos National Laboratory to promote Indigenous women in physics

Two students selected for an internship with nuclear and particle physicists
Two students from Fort Lewis College were chosen to be the first participants in an internship program developed by the college and Los Alamos National Labratory to promote Indigenous women in physics. (Courtesy of Fort Lewis College)

Los Alamos National Laboratory has partnered with Fort Lewis College to provide an internship program for undergraduate Indigenous women interested in a career in physics.

“Indigenous women are the most underrepresented group in physics degree completion and careers, and we’re in a region where the demographics are heavily Native American,” said co-principal investigator Astrid Morreale, physicist with the Nuclear and Particle Physics and Applications group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in a news release.

The new program aims to build a pipeline of talent from the undergraduate level in the Four Corners to get them enrolled in graduate programs and eventual careers in physics, including at national laboratories such as Los Alamos.

“It’s a bit of an incoherence, where we’re here doing high-level science and engineering, yet still underrepresented groups are either not coming to us or we’re not bringing them in,” Morreale said. “This program represents an effort to turn that around.”

Two FLC students were selected to be the first participants in the program:

  • Julie Nelson, an engineering and math major with an emphasis in physics, and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
  • Arielle Platero, also an engineering and math major with an emphasis in physics, and a member of the Navajo Nation.

“This internship and the research I am privileged to participate in will be the first steps I take in pursuit of a career in physics,” Nelson said. “Obtaining the knowledge no longer seems out of reach because of this opportunity. I am thrilled to get hands-on experience at Los Alamos National Laboratory and explore the research side of academia while collaborating with scientists and mentors about the contributions of nuclear and particle physics that can benefit humanity.”

The students will receive year-round mentoring from laboratory physicists while attending FLC. Included in the program is a 10-week internship in Los Alamos and a two-week visit to CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research.

“As a Navajo woman in the STEM field, I am very excited to work with the Los Alamos team, because it gives me an opportunity to contribute to and to help pave the way for new and exciting physics discoveries,” Platero said. “I am looking forward to continuing on this path to graduate school and to representing my tribe and showing the younger generation that we can do great things if we apply for these opportunities and put in the work.”

Students in the program will also be able to participate in the American Indian Resource Group that promotes access to Native American resources and a sense of community and inclusion while learning about high-energy nuclear physics at the laboratory.

Nelson and Platero will work alongside Morreale and co-principal investigator Cesar Luiz da Silva, staff scientist and fellow Nuclear and Particle Physics and Applications group member.

While the program aims to help Indigenous women advance in physics, Morreale stresses that the laboratory and the field of physics have much to gain by bolstering participation from underrepresented groups.

“We don’t see this program as the laboratory just helping students,” she said. “We need them. They would help us if they came here. We want to have different ideas and different points of view in our discipline. We’re trying to help our field by bringing in new talent and perspectives.”

The program began on Nov. 15, and funding has been secured through the U.S. Department of Energy for the next two years.

Nelson and Platero will conduct gluon saturation research, seeking to discover a new state of matter in which gluons are densely packed and give rise to properties not unlike ordinary glass. Gluons are fundamental particles that glue all visible matter together and can be studied with detectors being constructed at Los Alamos and then deployed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.


An earlier version of this story misspelled Arielle Platero’s first name. Incorrect information was given to the Herald.

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