Local high school students learn AI basics at a four-week summer camp hosted by Argonne and Northern Illinois University.
The term artificial intelligence, or AI, is used to describe everything from facial recognition technology used in airports to smart vacuum cleaners used in homes. But what is AI and how does it work? And how is it used today to solve problems in science and engineering?
In July, a group of learning scientists and computer scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Northern Illinois (NIU) organized Science and Inquiry: Exploring Artificial Intelligence, an AI-driven virtual summer camp attended by regional high school students recruited through NIU’s Upward Bound program. Over the course of four weeks, students at the camp received a basic introduction to AI and machine learning, as well as an opportunity to analyze real datasets using real analytics tools. , from zero coding knowledge.
“AI will play an important role in the lives of students today,” said Michael E. Papka, director of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) and professor of computer science at NIU, one from the initiators of the AI summer camp. “This summer camp was an opportunity to first introduce the fundamentals of AI, then connect this knowledge to emerging methods of solving extremely complex problems.”
The learning experience was designed and implemented by a collaboration of staff and students from Argonne, NIU, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“We set out to introduce students to the technical aspects of AI and also discuss the societal implications,” said John Domyancich, head of the Argonne Learning Center. “This technology can be trained to detect forest fires in images or dramatically improve the diagnostic quality of CT scans, and has immense potential to solve big problems in science and society.”
The camp’s program developers aimed to create a setting that provides students with an authentic scientific research experience – one that both develops essential skills and has local relevance or context. The camp first introduced broader concepts of AI and machine learning before relating the day-to-day uses of AI (cataloging and recognizing bird songs, for example) to how they can be used. by researchers to solve extremely complex problems (search for supernovae, find new drugs). Students then worked in groups to generate and analyze AI-generated datasets using the same professional analysis tools used by scientists on AI projects, including Juypter Notebooks.
In one activity, students learned to identify the genre of a song using AI. After assigning both subjective (dance) and objective (tempo) characteristics to a song, they then set out to create a computer model to identify the characteristics and predict the song’s genre. The lesson explored how to train, test, and validate an AI model, explore the resulting datasets, and determine how AI can be used to overcome insufficient data to conduct a survey.
“It was about the students seeing themselves as scientists,” said Kristin Brynteson, who heads the NIU’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program. “We wanted to help them discover a passion for it and show them what is possible.”
Halfway through the camp, the students started an exercise that the instructors called “IKEA Directions” for AI, where the students attempted to break down all the elements of AI and put them into simple instructions, a much like the instructions that came with an IKEA piece of furniture.
“We wanted to translate the cutting edge science that takes place in the lab into something comparable,” said Domyancich. “We were concerned that AI might be too advanced a topic to fit into a student camp, but we were surprised to see how much these students thought about AI and how much their questions and concerns were insightful and comprehensive. ”
Overall, the organizers were pleased with the level of engagement and the collaborative nature of the first Argonne-NIU IA camp and are working to expand students’ access to a diversity of technology and scientific data. in real time.
“We are exploring ways to establish spaces for students to research, share and collaborate, and to incorporate the use of AI into the discussion,” said Meridith Bruozas, Head of Educational Programs and awareness raising in Argonne. “The end goal is to get students to design and study their own research questions.”
For now, the team is learning from the first AI camp to plan future activities aimed at increasing AI proficiency among students. “This camp added to a growing number of experiments aimed at getting students interested in computer science and began to pursue subjects in AI and science,” Papka said.
“We were successful if the students left camp with a better understanding of AI and wanted to learn more,” Brynteson concluded. “If we actually sparked that curiosity in them, I think we did what we planned to do.”
Other camp organizers included Pete Beckman d’Argonne, Nicola Ferrier and Brandon Poe; Ann Shult and Emily Brown of NIU; and Brenda Lopez Silva of the University of Illinois at the Learning Sciences Research Institute in Chicago.
The ALCF is a user installation of the DOE Office of Science. The NIU Upward Bound program is administered by the NIU College Preparation Office with funding from the US Department of Education.
The Argonne Leadership Computing Center provides high-performance computing capabilities to the scientific and engineering community to advance fundamental discovery and understanding across a wide range of disciplines. Supported by the Office of Science of the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, the ALCF is one of the DOE’s two executive computing facilities in the country dedicated to science. opened.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to urgent national problems in science and technology. The country’s leading national laboratory, Argonne conducts cutting-edge fundamental and applied scientific research in virtually all scientific disciplines. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of businesses, universities, and federal, state, and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance U.S. scientific leadership, and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 countries, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy.
The Office of Science of the United States Department of Energy is the largest proponent of basic physical science research in the United States and strives to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https: // ener gy .gov / s c ience.
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