By Staff Writers Jonathan Ko & Vicki Xu
Several students attended Irvington High School’s third annual Dine With a Scientist fundraiser on March 4. There, students spoke with guest scientists about subjects such as research, hobbies, and the state of science in the US.
This year’s Dine With a Scientist was organized by Irvington students Sophomore James Wang and Senior Yagnya Patel and assisted by Irvington Math Teacher Ryan Willer and Irvington Science Teachers Lindsay Milligan and Huy Pham. The event was the biggest yet: thanks to a robust social media campaign, all 110 available slots were filled, a sharp increase from last year’s 65 sign-ups. Most attendees donated $30 or more to the Irvington Science Department, but MSJ students were allowed a discount of $15.
Starting at 5:45 p.m., students, teachers, scientists, and other community members trickled into a cafeteria lit by dim blue lights, and sat in round tables for their meals. After a brief welcome speech by Pham, assistants served hummus and pita bread, salads, and plates of saffron rice and chicken. At each table, a scientist sat with several students, teachers, and other community members interested in the scientist’s field of study. During the main course, attendees chatted with fellow table-members, but after dessert was served, attendees mingled and spoke with participants and scientists from other tables.
The scientists came from a variety of laboratories and universities, with the bulk doing research at Stanford University or Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The fields of study were equally diverse, ranging from cosmology to electrical engineering to radiation oncology.
Scientists shared stories of their journey in research as well as life lessons they picked up along the way. “I was surrounded by people who were at least good, if not better than me, and I think it’s good to be in that circumstance,” said Stanford Physics Professor Roger Blandford.
Many of the scientists cited giving back to the community or inspiring students as their motivation for taking part in the event. Stanford Postdoctoral Research Fellow Whitney Heavner said, “In high school, I didn’t really know what working at a lab even meant. I think it’s important that I take any opportunity I get to come and speak to high school students about what it is to be a scientist and how cool and rewarding it is.”
The event received positive feedback from attendees. Senior Sarah Chong said, “I really liked how there was a variety of sciences — neuroscience, physics, cosmology — and asking about these different scientists was very interesting. Usually you wouldn’t have access to these people.”
Fremont Mayor Lily Mei agreed. “I enjoyed this event because it gives a chance for our students to have a casual and informal gathering, so they can talk to real life career role models and get some practical exchange on the careers,” she said.
Sandia National Laboratories Researcher Aashish Priye said, “As a student I had some burning questions. Where does the universe end? How did life begin? … I try to keep that curiosity alive in high school students. If those questions don’t die, they lead to more pursuit. And the pursuit of these questions leads to progress.”
Photos by Staff Writer Vicki Xu