Feature: Kids Enjoy Grids
"I want to come back and work here when I'm older," was the spontaneous reaction of one of the children invited by the Enabling Grids for E-sciencE project for a "Grids for Kids" day at the end of January this year.
The children, aged nine to eleven, came to EGEE headquarters at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of their computing class.
The EGEE Gender Action team organized the day to introduce children to grid technology at an early age and to encourage the participation of females in science.
All of the presenters were women, but the school group included both boys and girls.
Where are your white coats?
"Before this visit the children thought that scientists always wore white coats and worked in sterile labs concocting potions, were usually male, and had wild Einstein-like hair," said Jackie Beaver, the class's teacher at the Institut International de Lancy, a school near Geneva.
"They were surprised and pleased to see that women became scientists," Beaver said, "and that scientists were quite 'normal'. The children learned about many new things and they remembered quite a lot about the visit, so it really was a huge success."
After a short presentation on CERN and the need for grids to analyze the vast amounts of data created by the experiments at CERN's next-generation accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, the children were full of questions.
One pupil was interested in where grid power came from, quite literally: "All of these computers, are they powered by renewable energies?"
Other questions focused on what can be achieved with grids and how they can help scientists in their everyday work and in dealing with natural disasters, such as earthquakes.
Computers, computers, computers
The children toured the CERN Computing Center to see some of the computers comprising the grid and were able to feel the heat produced by all these computers.
They were captivated by the tape robots and tried to determine how many DVDs would fit on one data cartridge, on all the cartridges in the whole silo, and if there were enough DVDs in the world to fill up the storage tower.
Comparing the computers to their home PCs, the pupils were astonished to learn that for a whole rack you need only one screen and keyboard.
With simple online games, the children learned about problem-solving with grids. In some of the games the children had to set priorities or to allow different jobs to run on a grid at the same time. Getting the hang of it quite quickly, the children began competing to see who would be the quickest to find a cure for cancer or save the world.
The day was fun not only for the children but also for the EGEE Gender Action team.
"When we thought about the gender imbalance in our project, we found it very difficult to find effective ways to address the situation that we are in today," said Anna Cook from EGEE.
"If we could get to children very early and show them that this type of work is also a career possibility for women, we just might be able to make a difference."
- Hannelore Hammerle, EGEE