The hallways in Building EP-5 of the Lockheed Martin complex in Salina were permeated by a strange smell on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t a new defense project, nor was it a lunchroom accident. No, it was part of an experiment to demonstrate how electricity works.
Two Lockheed engineers were electrocuting a pickle.
The demonstration was part of the company’s sixth annual Women in Engineering Day, in which girls from area high schools come to learn more about math and science and the various fields of engineering in the hopes that they will pursue the fields further in the future.
The pickle experiment demonstrated how electricity works.
“It’s because of the sodium in the pickle,” said Pascal Youn. “The sodium ionizes, meaning that the sodium molecules are charged and start to jump all around. As they come back down, the pickle emits light and makes a buzzing sound. That’s the frequency.”
But why a pickle?
“It’s a lot cooler to use a pickle than a light bulb in a box or something,” Young said.
That was the goal of the event, held from 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Friday Nov. 3 — to find new ways to interest young women in engineering careers.
“It’s a great event,” said Kate Thomas, a software engineer at Lockheed. “When I was their age, I didn’t even know what an engineer was. But they get to come and see demonstrations from people who are tops in their fields.”
This year’s event, which hosted a record-high 64 girls from 28 area high schools, was chaired by Kristen Walker, a 1998 Liverpool High School graduate. She has chaired the event for the last four years.
“It started six years ago when another engineer saw a need,” Walker said. “It started a lot smaller — just 10 or 15 schools.”
In order to increase participation, Lockheed Martin sends information packets to all schools within an hour radius of the company. Each school is asked to bring two students, though more can attend. Those students, mostly sophomores, are specifically selected by their schools to come to the event, which features demonstrations in ceramic, electrical and biomedical engineering.
“Almost all [of the demonstrators] are employed at Lockheed,” Walker said. “They all put together the demonstrations on their own time. They’re very willing to teach the kids what they do.”
Sara Coffey, a Liverpool High School sophomore, was impressed by what she saw. Coffey attended the event, she said, to learn more about engineering and to explore it as an option.
“My dad’s an engineer, so I thought I’d just check it out and try to learn more about it before I commit myself to it in college,” she said. “It’s a good event. There’s a lot for us to do. It was really well-planned.”
Walker hopes that all of the girls learned more about what engineering is and that some will continue into the field. She pointed out that the numbers of people entering engineering are dropping.
“According to the statistics from the department of labor, the number of women going to school for engineering is dropping,” she said. “In fact, the number of people, men or women, actually becoming engineers is going down. The world always needs engineers. The goal of this event is to get more interest, especially from kids who aren’t exposed to it.”
Walker also wants the girls who attended Friday’s event to understand what engineering is. “I want them to know how many fields there are and what it really is,” she said. “Engineering is fun, not nerdy.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.