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Argonne scientist visits AP Computer Science class

Argonne scientist visits AP Computer Science class

On Wednesday, December 7th, Argonne scientist Janet Knowles visited our AP Computer Science class ahead of students starting their end of the semester coding project.

Argonne National Laboratory is a science and engineering research national laboratory operated by UChicago Argonne LLC for the United States Department of Energy. The facility is located in Lemont, Illinois, and is the largest national laboratory by size and scope in the Midwest.

"It's a huge campus...all sorts of science is done there. We have biologists, chemists, scientists, astrophysicist, basically, you name it, we have it," Knowles said.

Janet Knowles works in the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, which is a high-performance computing facility, as part of the Visualization and Data Analytics Group. She works with three other people, all of which are men. Knowles research interests include scientific visualization, computer graphics and animation, immersive environments, graphical user interface design, alternative modes of interaction, and 3D modeling.

On Wednesday, December 7th, Argonne scientist Janet Knowles visited our AP Computer Science class.

In addition to talking generally about Argonne and her position there, Janet Knowles spoke to the students about her career journey from high school to grad school, and then on to the computer science industry.

"I was really into math, physics, sports, and art, and it kind of led me to the idea of 'oh, you know what? I think I want to try electrical engineering.' When I was a junior [in high school], we only had three AP classes, and I was able to take AP Calculus, but I was the only girl. So this is amazing that we have an AP Computer Science class that you guys are taking. My math teacher, who was a woman, said to me, 'you are the only woman in this class, you need to go represent.' And I really took those words to heart and I hope you guys also go out and represent," Knowles said.

Knowles shared that while in high school she took participated in internships, and even worked on one of the first super-computers called the nCUBE. She went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania and received her degree in electrical engineering. After college, she went on to work for an investment bank in the World Trade Center.

"All these things kind of took me to the point where I thought I should consider going back to grad school, and I found this lab at UIC where they have artists and computer scientists, and I said that is exactly where I want to go and I got my Masters in Computer Science," Knowles said.

She went on to share the many career changes she made before landing her current job at Argonne and stressed to students that there may be bumps in the road and it's okay to make career path changes.

Returning the topic back on Argonne, Knowles shared that they are developing a high-performance computer called Aurora, which will be ready in 2023, that will be one of the first exascale supercomputers. 

"It will be one of the fastest computers in the world," Knowles said.

On Wednesday, December 7th, Argonne scientist Janet Knowles visited our AP Computer Science class.

Following the presentation, students enjoyed a Q & A with Knowles before starting their end of the semester project, which is a data-driven coding challenge. AP Computer Science students have to choose a data set and write a program to process that data in a unique way. Mrs. Knowles was able to help student groups decide the data set that would be relevant to their individual programming projects, and how they might use it.

RES teacher, Mr. Wold, said it was a meaningful visit, in part because Mrs. Knowles expressed her excitement to speak at an all-girls school. She was even more enthusiastic about girls learning computer science, which is a predominantly male career choice, he said.