Algoma Steel Shows Off Science Behind the Steel to Inspire Future STEMers

As businesses continue to become more modernized and focus on a growth mindset, the demand for people who can fill jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is only expected to increase.

This means companies will need to give serious thought to understanding how they can meet the challenges of a future that will need employees who are well-versed in STEM fields.

Algoma Steel, a member of the Steel Market Development Institute, is one of those companies putting down stakes to understand how they can reach youth and show them different paths to success. After all, STEM careers represent some of the largest growth industries and highest salaries in Canada (where Algoma is located), so it makes sense for both parties to think about a STEM future.

Last month, Algoma participated in the fifth annual Sault Ste. Marie Science Festival. This week-long, one-of-a-kind event offered opportunities to celebrate science in a fun, inclusive and engaging atmosphere. The festival highlighted science and technology by providing many different interactive activities for people of all ages to experience, and culminated in a Science Carnival on the Saturday for local children and their families to participate in.

As the largest employer in Sault Ste. Marie Algoma Steel wanted to make their presence known while giving attendees something fun to do  ensuring steel was front and center. Algoma’s exhibit, called “The Science of Steel,” was interactive in nature and featured a number of stations geared toward demonstrating steel isn’t just about beams and bridges.

One of the stations showcased the raw materials that go into steel to help visitors understand how those materials are added to the process flow.

Another station housed a computer game where users could choose the grade of steel they wanted to create, pick out the raw materials, put them through the manufacturing process, and see the end product. This game was designed by a few of Algoma Steel’s employees who were part of the company’s graduate engineer training program. They put their smarts to use to give the public a better understanding of the steel-making process.

There was also a station featuring different steel samples set under microscopes to give interested attendees a close-up view of steel, showing its microstructure, along with quality test samples they could touch and feel.

But the pièce de résistance was SMDI’s virtual reality journey through a futuristic cityscape that first appeared at the North American International Auto Show this past January in Detroit. 

Those who took the three-minute ride saw the key components of a steel-bodied autonomous vehicle, while learning how the advancement of high-strength steel can address the potential challenges of autonomous transportation.

“The main purpose of participating in the event was to educate people on the science behind the steel,” said Natalie Plastino, communications specialist at Algoma Steel. “But we also want to encourage younger people to consider a career in the steel industry, and we think this is a good first step.”

Plastino added, “The line of visitors waiting to use the virtual reality experience grew longer as the day went on. Children of all ages and adults alike didn’t mind the wait. Rather, they were eager to find out what all of the excitement was about.”

The festival is a collaborative venture between ten Sault Ste. Marie organizations and Science North, a popular educational resource for children and adults across the province of Ontario. The non-profit maintains two of the largest science centers in Canada and views events like the Sault Ste. Marie science festival as a great way to put science in front of kids who might have an interest in this field.

“The Sault Ste. Marie Science Festival gives the next generation of scientists and engineers an opportunity to figure out what’s interesting to them,” said Lora Clausen, senior scientist, Northern Initiatives at Science North and Sault Ste. Marie Science Festival Chair. “With Algoma Steel’s presence and ‘Science of Steel’ exhibit on display, there is an emphasis on materials science, which is a burgeoning, albeit, under-the-radar discipline with a strong future.”

With other new technology industries attracting significant amounts of talent, recruitment can be a tough hill to climb for the steel industry. But, companies like Algoma Steel are making strides to keep the talent pipeline full and show the future workforce this can be a viable industry to work in.

“Algoma is an entrepreneurial company with a 118-year history, so the steel industry obviously has staying power,” said Plastino. “While steel might not seem as appealing as automotive engineering at first glance, there is more that goes into it than just mining and smelting.  We believe a career in steel can be just as fulfilling as any other STEM-related industry.”

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