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Wanted: Female Physicists

Girls at BYU GAL 2017
Photo by Cassie Prettyman

Summer had just begun, but teenage girls from across Utah County spent May 30 and 31 on the fourth floor of the Eyring Science Center soldering wires together.

Explaining the difference between the light from a lightbulb and a concentrated laser beam, BYU physics professor Dallin Durfee asked the girls, “What does a laser look like on my eye?”

“I don’t know; I’ve never tried before,” a girl in the back of the lab chimed, shining her homemade laser on the wall in front of her.

“Don’t try,” Durfee wisely responded.

Durfee is the organizer of the BYU GALs (Girls and Light) Program—an annual event held on BYU campus that introduces girls to the physics behind light and electronics.

“A lot of young women have the idea that they’re not supposed to be scientists,” Durfee said. “They may enjoy it and have aptitude, but they feel like they’re not supposed to major in physics or chemistry or engineering. I just wanted them to see that this is something they can do, something that they enjoy doing.”

For two days, the students participated in activities that expanded their knowledge and perception of physics. Many of their projects dealt with lenses and imaging, as well as LED lights and colors. During some of these projects, the girls had the opportunity to work with their own female mentors.

“[They had] a chance during certain parts of the program to interact with some of the women physicists in our department, so they get to see that they are out there and this is something [they] can do,” Durfee said.

He’s only been running the event for five years, but Durfee has already seen some results.

“I heard back from some parents who told me that one girl, who had shown no interest in science [before the program], went to her mom and said, ‘I want to change my schedule at school. I want to take some science classes,’” Durfee said.

Durfee hopes that the love of science instilled in his young students eventually continues into their professional careers.

“The main reason I do this is . . . so the next generation of scientists don’t choose to become some other thing instead,” Durfee said. “We need scientists.”