Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

April 15, 2020

Group photo of eighth grade students from Roosevelt Junior High School standing outside NIFEighth grade students from Roosevelt Junior High School visited NIF. Credit: Lori McDowell.

An eighth-grade class from Modesto’s Roosevelt Junior High School visited the National Ignition Facility (NIF) recently as part of an pilot STE(A)M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics)-Day-at-the-Lab program for middle school students at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Lab’s Science Education Program is launching the pilot.

Joanna Albala, manager of Science Education for LLNL’s Director’s Office (DO), sought a way to expand the Lab’s outreach efforts by adding middle school groups to the NIF tour schedule. Currently, these tours include high school groups hosted bimonthly in partnership with the Lab’s Science Education Program. NIF also supports biannual STEM Day events hosted by the Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Programs.

A big highlight of the February 20 tour came when the students had the rare opportunity to watch as the world’s largest and most energetic laser fired for a Discovery Science program experiment.

The students viewed it from the visitor’s gallery overlooking NIF’s 10-story laser switchyard. Physicist Hye-Sook Park, the experiment’s principal investigator, captured the moment in a video.

Tour guide David Mathisen, shot automation lead architect for LLNL’s Computing Directorate, thanked Park for taking the time to explain the experiment, saying outreach to students “is one of the best things we do.”

“It’s always a challenge because we only get an hour to explain one of the most complex machines on the planet,” Mathisen said. “I want them to know this is big and complex and special and most importantly, possible. I remind them that we dreamed before we got here.  We still dream and question. And every day, we are excited about what we get to do. There is no better example than watching you and your team excitedly await the flash of a system shot and then taking the time to explain what that data will tell us.”

CaT Vogen, NIF tours and events administrator, called the tour a success. “Some of the kids dressed for success and wore ties,” Vogen said. “Kudos to the team for making it a magical experience.”

The STE(A)M-Day-at-the-Lab pilot included a presentation by John Jett, graphic artist with the NIF & Photon Science Document Services team. Jett talked about his award-winning educational comic book that explains how NIF works and the types of careers available at LLNL.

After the tour, a team from the Lawrence Livermore Television Network (LLTN) guided the students through a video production. And Dave Rakestraw (DO) led a workshop showing the students how sound waves are formed, propagate, and create resonances. They used smart phones to record the data.

“It was a great way to launch this program,” Albala said. “The Laboratory is known for its exceptional work in STEM areas, but it is important to foster the idea that artistic skills (putting the “A” in STEAM) can highlight scientific efforts at the Lab as well as introduce the next generation to artistic career opportunities here.”

—Benny Evangelista

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