Regional high school students learn the basics of artificial intelligence at a four-week summer camp hosted by the University of 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 artificial intelligence and how does it work? And how is it used today to solve problems in science and engineering?
In July of this year, a group of learning science experts and computer scientists from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory (DOE) and Northern Illinois University (NIU) hosted Science and Investigation: Exploring Artificial Intelligence, a virtual summer camp focused on artificial intelligence, attended by Recruit regional high school students through NIU’s Upward Bound Program. Over the course of four weeks, the students of the camp got a foundational introduction to artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the opportunity to analyze real data sets using real analysis tools, starting with zero knowledge of code.
Director of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) and Professor of Computer Science at NIU Michael E. “This summer camp was an opportunity to first introduce the basic principles of AI and then connect that knowledge with emerging ways to solve very complex problems.”
The learning experience was designed and delivered through the 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 to discuss the societal implications as well,” said John Domjancic, President of the Argonne Learning Center. “This technology can be trained to detect wildfires in images or significantly improve the quality of CT diagnostics, and it has tremendous potential to solve big problems in science and society.”
The camp curriculum developers aim to build a framework that gives students an authentic scientific research experience – one that develops core skills and has a local relevance or context. Camp first introduced broader concepts of AI and machine learning before linking everyday uses of AI (indexing and recognizing bird songs, for example) with how it is used by researchers to solve very complex problems (hunting for supernovae, finding new life-saving drugs) . The students then worked in groups to create and analyze data sets generated by the AI using the same professional analysis tools that scientists use on AI projects, including Juypter Notebooks.
In one of the activities, students learned how to determine the genre of a song using artificial intelligence. After attributing both subjective (danceability) and objective (rhythm) traits to the song, they then set out to build a computer model to identify the features and predict the genre of the song. The lesson explored how to train, test, and verify an AI model, explore the resulting datasets, and identify how AI can be used to overcome data shortages to complete an investigation.
“This was about students seeing themselves as scientists,” said Kristen Brentson, who directs the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) program at NIU. “We wanted to help them discover their passion for this, and show them what’s possible.”
In the middle of camp, the students started an exercise the trainers called “IKEA Trends” for AI, in which the students tried to break down all the parts of AI and put them into simple instructions, like the instructions that come with a piece of IKEA furniture.
“We wanted to translate the latest science that happens in the lab into something that can be relied upon,” Domjancic said. “We were concerned that AI might be too advanced on a subject to fit into a student camp, but we were surprised at how deeply these students thought about AI, and how insightful the big picture was to their questions and concerns.”
Overall, the organizers were pleased with the level of participation and the collaborative nature of the inaugural Argonne-NIU AI Camp and are working to expand students’ access to a variety of technologies and scientific data in real time.
“We are exploring ways to create spaces for students to research, share, collaborate and integrate the use of AI into discussion,” said Meredith Brouzas, director of educational programs and outreach at Argonne. “Having students design and investigate their own research questions is the ultimate goal.”
Currently, the team is taking lessons learned from the first AI camp to plan future activities aimed at increasing AI literacy among students. “This camp added to a growing number of experiences aimed at attracting students interested in computer science and starting their pursuit of topics in artificial intelligence and science,” Babka said.
“We would be successful if the students left the camp with a better understanding of AI and a desire to learn more,” concluded Brentson. “If we actively aroused that curiosity, I think we did what we set out to do.”
Additional camp organizers include Pete Beckmann of Argonne, Nicolas Ferrer, and Brandon Poe. Ann Schulte of NIU and Emily Brown; and Brenda Lopez Silva of the University of Illinois at the Learning Sciences Research Institute in Chicago.
ALCF is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The NIU Upward Bound Program is operated by the NIU Office of Pre-College Programs with funding from the US Department of Education.
The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility provides supercomputing capabilities to the scientific and engineering community to advance fundamental discovery and understanding in a wide range of disciplines. Supported by the Office of Science, Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ALCF is one of two State Department of Energy’s leading computing facilities dedicated to open science.
Argonne National Laboratory searches for solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. Argonne, the country’s first national laboratory, conducts groundbreaking basic and applied scientific research in nearly every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state, and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance American scientific leadership, and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 countries, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The US Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/sc ience.
This story was written by Laura Wolf and Logan Ludwig, courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory