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Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson

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I Want to Be a Scientist in My Next Life

Posted: 11/18/11 01:17 PM ET

I want to be a scientist in my next life

I had the most inspiring experience a few weeks ago and was so geeked that I wanted to share it: a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the country's most esteemed science laboratories -- The Argonne National Laboratory.

Argonne National Laboratory is run by the US Department of Energy and managed by the University of Chicago. Not the first thing that you think of for a thing to do in Chicago, but since my visit, I'm definitely putting it on the "must show my tourists this place."

Now I do live in Chicago and had heard and read about research at Argonne. For years, I thought about making a trip out there to see for myself what they were incubating, but never made an actual plan to do so.

It took my registration at an information and communication confab in Chicago, called Chicago Ideas Week, to get me off my duff and actually GO to the place.

Visiting the lab opened my eyes to a plethora of scientific investigation that is going on in a gigantic complex about 25 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

First of all, the campus is amazingly grand. It covers over 1,500 acres of buildings with 3,000 scientists at work in a pristine college campus-like environment that oozes thought and enlightenment, with an almost Zen-like quality. I say this because the buildings I entered, and the scientists who spoke with us were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and very happy to be in their laboratories, so happy that one physicist in particular had been there for over 20 years. From the spark in his eyes and his passionate story-telling, I could see why he was still eager and excited to still be there. The setting is so inspiring, it makes you want to put on a white lab coat and go to work -- change the world ... doing something meaningful.

The research and development projects at Argonne run the gamut from nano fabrication technology research and development, to high performance computer imaging, X-Ray microscopy research, and energy and environmental science research. Our small group of non-scientist visitors stepped into state-of-the-art laboratories, saw amazing representations of advanced computer modeling, viewed the incredible accelerator system from above and then walked through the impressive complex.

We were also able to see progress on a new supercomputer laboratory under construction now. Granted, I didn't fully understand most of the science behind this huge facility, but I did comprehend that the research here will continue to produce applications that will improve our lives and our planet far into the future.

As a cancer survivor, I was mesmerized to learn of the work being done in nano technology with instrumentation that can seek out and kill tumors that current treatments are not able to thwart. In fact, at the University of Chicago Hospitals, they are doing trials with bio-technology procedures for cancer treatment protocols right now.

My background in science study ended after one year of biology in college, so I was mesmerized by the developments in all the physical and applied sciences that I observed at Argonne. And believe me, we saw only a fraction of the important research being done there.

This led me to think that in my next life, I shall become a scientist. Oh, and by the way, should you find yourself in Chicago for a few days, call and schedule a tour of Argonne, it will make your day. And in the time it took for you to read this blog, the scientists at Argonne have probably pushed forward research and technology to prolong my life and yours. Hats off to the scientists in my backyard!

Pat Johnson
Grannies on Safari

My visit to the Argonne National Laboratory
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