High School visiting scientist lecture series kicks off

posted on February 9, 2012

On the evening of February 6, Red Cloud hosted Connie Giroux, Lab Manager of the Sanford Underground Lab in Lead, SD. The lab is located 4,850 feet under the surface of the earth in what was formerly the Homestake gold mine. Ms. Giroux wryly observed that she is one of the only people in the world with an office and phone line nearly 5,000 feet underground.

Since 1965, when a solar-neutrino detector was installed at that same level, the lab has pushed global scientific knowledge forward. Dr. Ray Davis of Brookhaven National Laboratory, who built the original neutrino detector, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002 “for discoveries that changed the course of physics”. In 2007, the National Science Foundation approved the Homestake Lab as the future site of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, which would be the deepest underground science facility in the world.

With so much fascinating and ongoing work, Red Cloud was fortunate to be able to bring Ms. Giroux to campus. She came at the invitation of the high school’s Makhoche Wopasi Okholakichiye (Science Club), and made extra time to have dinner with seven members of the club, as well as science teacher Wendell Gehman. Gehman specifically planned the dinner so that the students would have an opportunity to interact with Ms. Giroux in a less formal setting than her lecture, and get to know her on a more personal level.

During her talk, Ms. Giroux began by speaking about her background and how she became interested in the field of science. As an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, she hopes to be an example to reservation youth as someone who has followed a path of continuing education in the sciences, and turned it into a successful career in a world-class setting. She spoke about receiving a NASA Space Grant Fellowship in 2006, and spending a summer visiting different NASA mission control locations and looking at prototypes for potential Mars rovers. One of the designs is currently on a spacecraft en route to Mars.

Of her work with NASA, Giroux said: “I was working with the safety teams to basically assess all of these [rover] programs and make sure that they are adequately identifying risks and mitigating them. And it was an interesting process, [and] we did find some areas that could be improved on. It’s hard to tell NASA ‘you should improve on this or that,’ but that was part of my job, so I did. And we improved the system they were working with.”

Giroux went on to speak in vivid detail about her work at Sanford Underground Lab, and how it ties in to other such research going on around the globe.

Savannah Jensen, a sophomore who plans to attend an Ivy League university and become a physician for the Indian Health Service, had this to say about the presentation: “Ms. Giroux’s talk empowered me to keep up my love for science and to eventually contribute to the world. I hope one day to be as happy with my career as she is.”

Gehman was also extremely pleased with how the evening went, saying: “It was great to host our first [Visiting Lecture Series] event, and to hear about the cutting-edge research going on at the Stanford Lab. The kids were energized and inspired to pursue their dreams and to follow Connie’s example. She will continue to serve as a mentor to our students for years to come.”

The Red Cloud Visiting Scientist Lecture Series is supported by funds from the Toyota Foundation, who last year awarded the school a $420,000 grant to update its science equipment, curriculum, and facilities. A video of Ms. Giroux’s speech may be viewed at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20275908.